How is it possible to interpret the imperative Tzedek, tzedek tirdof--"Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20), which we encounter this week in Parashat Shofetim?
Would it not have been sufficient to say the word "justice" just once?
We would like to share four insights on "Justice, justice...." The very reiteration of the word unlocks opportunities for us to expand the application of justice in our time and in our lives.
When Moses called for "Justice, justice...," he did so deliberately. Sometimes when a word is said only once, the import of that word might be disregarded or overlooked. When "justice" is repeated again, however, there can be no mistake: We must be moved to chase after it. Our pursuit cannot cease until we acquire justice. Then we are obligated to muster all of our power to introduce it into the midst of our community.
When Moses exclaimed "Justice, Justice...," the occasion arose for the individual to be addressed separately from the entire people. The first time Moses cried "Justice," the word was directed at the heart of each individual human being. The second time, it was aimed at the whole community. Each woman and man was being urged to pool her or his sense of justice and thereby help create a society that practiced just behavior.
When Moses cried out "Justice, Justice...," the principle that justice could never be one-sided was evoked. Equity, fairness, and impartiality were revealed and applied to all matters.
When Moses taught us "Justice, Justice...," the instruction compelled us to go and study what "justice" means. Knowing what was just, however, was only the initial step. Our understanding of the term could not be a philosophical exercise with no positive action. When "justice" was repeated a second time, it became our summons to pursue justice so "that you may thrive and occupy the land...." (Deuteronomy 16:20)
In addition, the powerful verb "shall pursue" emphasizes and accents the nature of the divine demand. God's address to us, through Moses, is to a community of people in an imperfect state of being. "Justice" is not a concept that can be bestowed upon us, nor is it an ethereal notion. Rather, it is a dynamic possibility that we must seek each day and in each circumstance. Without justice, genuine empathy in the form of mercy could not evolve.
Insights flow from this verse and lead us farther on the journey for justice tempered by compassion. In studying this text, each of us is capable of using his or her own insights derived from this verse and adding his or her own commentary. Moses' distinctive message calls to us now. And God waits for us to respond.