שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָֽׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק: לֹֽא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹֽא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם: צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָֽרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ: לֹֽא־תִטַּ֥ע לְךָ֛ אֲשֵׁרָ֖ה כָּל־עֵ֑ץ אֵ֗צֶל מִזְבַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּֽךְ:
You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you. You shall not plant for yourself an asherah, [or] any tree, near the altar of the Lord, your God, which you shall make for yourself.Deuteronomy 16:18-21
This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most important verses in all Torah. Moshe Rabeinu is reviewing the mitzvot of Hashem in length as well as the history of the journeys of the children of Israel. In the midst of the story, Moshe reiterates the primary task of the children of Israel. “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
Different editions of the Torah interpret this phrase in different ways. The mitzvot immediately preceding this verse are indeed about justice in the legal sense. However, prior to that section, the mitzvot being discussed were not about legal justice at all. They were in regard to Hashem’s appointed times. Also, the subject after the verse is yet another prohibition against idolatry. These things have nothing to do with legal justice.
The term for legal justice, mishpat, is used in verse 19. “You shall not pervert justice.” There is no doubt this is referring to the legal justice system. Verse 20 does not use the term mishpat. Instead, verse 20 tells us, “tzedek, tzedek, you shall pursue. This term is normally translated as righteousness. It means the following of Torah, generally, not just commandments dealing with the legal justice system. This is a very important distinction. The pursuit of Torah’s mitzvot is vitally important. Do not pervert justice, do not take a bribe, go to the temple in Jerusalem three times a year and bring the Chagiga offering, do not plant an idolatrous tree. In short, pursuing mitzvot, is of utmost importance. Shabbat shalom.