Shoftim 2020/5780

Posted by on Oct 28, 2020

Shoftim 2020/5780

This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim includes the famous words tzedek tzedek tirdof-which is typically translated as “justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Looking first at what we call the Pshat- the plain reading of the text: what does it mean to pursue justice?

In this very same parsha we read that it means

No bribes and no favoritism (16:19)

That you must have 2 or 3 witnesses to confirm something happened (17:6)

What if we go deeper and look beyond the plain meaning and find an interpretation of this text that illuminates this a bit more helpfully.

In the Drash we see that another take on this line looks at the word tzedek as meaning fairness, not justice. The thinking goes this way:

The Torah instructs judges to dispense not simply “mishpat” (justice) but rather “mishpat tzedek” (equitable justice).

Simple “justice” involves not favoring one party and not accepting bribes. This was already taught in the Covenant Code in (Exodus 23:3, 6-8), and is repeated now. What is new in Shoftim is the focus on “equitable justice,” on a judicial process returning a verdict that is not only “legal” but also fair. This means that verdicts that are legal on technical grounds but not fair cannot stand.

The Torah does not say, “pursue justice, justice,” but rather “pursue fairness, fairness.”

What are some examples in today’s world of when our justice system reaches a result that is legal, but not fair:

A cop who wins a case to get a financial award for stress at work because he killed an innocent person.

A cop who gets away with murder because of qualified immunity.

An entire police system that declares riots when there are just people calling out for justice,

a system that prioritizes property over people,

a system that is violent and over militarized and terrified instead of recognizing that all it has to do is recognize that BLACK LIVES MATTER and that state violence is not the answer.

If we travel even deeper yet, the Sfat Emet offers up a teaching coming from Sod-which is the hidden meaning-the meaning that comes out of mystery-and not deduction or projection. The meaning that comes right from Source.

Sfat Emet-teaches:

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. There is no final depth or end to justice and truth, we always have to go deeper, seeking out the truth within truth.

And when do we know that we have reached that deepest truth? When we are entirely unified with the One and prepared to devote ourselves to the service of Yah.

I would expand upon the Sfat Emet just a little and say that truth and justice reach their pinnacle, their utmost perfection when the justice system unifies all of us not just with Yah, but also with one another and with our highest selves.

When the system works so beautifully to create peace and not violence, to create ease and not terror, to create holiness and not profanity that we find ourselves with so much spaciousness that we can dwell in a state of spiritual ecstasy, because just like the sick trees in the forest are held and helped and healed by the transmission of enzymes through the mycelia beneath the earth, we are held and helped and healed by a justice system based on love and compassion and restoration and beauty. A system where when people make mistakes they have the opportunity to fix them and make amends and become one again with the community. A system where those who are first responders to those who make mistakes are expert in healing and seeing the remedy and helping make sure that a person needs are met, instead of the folks showing up being not armed and lethal.

Have you seen that beautiful IMAGINE PUBLIC SAFETY series?

I’d like to close my thoughts this evening with four out of ten of their memes.

Memes? Not the right word. I will call them the manifestation of the deepest Torah I can offer tonight on what is justice that brings us together with Yah and love instead of creating violent separation?

Thanks to Mariame Kaba for authoring these:

1/ Your friends are intoxicated and fighting but you don’t want to get them in trouble.


…You call 311 and a crisis intervention team comes to your door.

1 hour later your friends are sleeping it off at home.


2/ You are experiencing a mental health crisis and afraid.


…you call 311 and a first responder trained in mental health comes to your door.

1 hour later you are in a safe lace with your consent with plans for follow up care.


3/You don’t realize, but your brake lights aren’t working.


…A city employee signals for you to pull over and says hey…how about I replace those lights for you right here so no one gets hurt?

An hour later both lights work and you are at home.


4/ Some folks are sleeping on benches in the park.


…A city employees comes by and checks to see if they nee a place to sleep, food, water, or health care.

An hour later, those who want a different place to sleep have one.


Now, that you have read them, I ask you to remember that Torah relates a story of the Israelites being enslaved for over 400 years, and then you remember what comes next. Yah sends plagues. And then we are liberated. Remember?

Have you heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It’s the mathematical discovery that says that there is no time space continuum, no linearity in time or space, but rather that everything in the universe is designed in a spiral. Yes. Time is a spiral.

And there is a companion idea that since time is a spiral, we go through the spiral over and over again. Until the spiral has completed itself and the pattern no longer repeats.

May this be the time, 2020 (5780 for we who follow the Jewish calendar), after over 400 years of slavery for Black people in this country, when a plague arises that is the gateway to a freedom that completes THIS pattern, THIS spiral, THIS progression once and for all, so that liberation and justice is our inheritance for the rest of eternity!

V’nomar, Amen.

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