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Shoftim – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

We are just entering the month of Ellul, when we count the days to Rosh Hashanah, also called the Day of Judgement. (Yom Ha Din). This week as we read SHOFTIM. It is all about how we are to conduct ourselves once we are in the Land. We read:

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף
Justice, justice shall you pursue

At the beginning of Pirkei Avot, in the Ethics of the Fathers, it states:

The world rests on three things: On Justice, on Truth, and on Peace

It is not justice in the simple sense of following the letter of the Law. The English word justice derives from the Latin “ius”, a written law but the Hebrew meaning is more subtle, it can mean righteousness. This is where the concepts of Tzedakah, charity and Tzedek, a righteous man begin. (In Hebrew the word for Law is Mishpat.)

Justice can have different aspects.  Is it personal, social, or political?

The Sedra talks about incorruptible Judges and credible witnesses. It understands inadvertent crime. The limitations upon a king and the moral problems of war are all discussed.

It ends with the story of the “eglah arufah” the sacrificial calf, when a body is found between two towns. 

Justice is to be served by the responsibility not only of the individual but by the community as a whole.

We had been given the Torah and the rules. We now have to interpret and live by them. It is not only the reality of justice but our own pursuit of justice that is being brought to our attention. So how do we pursue justice?

During Ellul, in the Shacharit service, we blow the Shofar (sadly this year is going to be the exception). According to Maimonides, the sound of the Shofar is an alarm clock for our souls)

We also recite Psalm 27:

אַחַ֚ת שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהֹוָה֘ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵֽית־יְ֖הֹוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑
One thing I ask of God, only that do I seek, to live in the house of God all the days of my life

The pursuit of justice might be as simple as that.

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