• Gabbai

Shoftim – Justice For All

Among the many Mitzvot that appear in Parshat Shoftim, one of the better known phrases is the mandate to perform and preserve justice in our society. “Justice, justice you shall pursue, in order that you shall live and inherit the land which the Lord, your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

It is not unusual for the Torah to repeat a word twice, and the explanation for such repetitive language is usually to emphasize the importance or severity of a Mitzvah or action. Of course there are many layers of meaning to such phrases in the Torah, but translators often simplify the repetitions, using a phrase such as: “You shall surely ___,” where a purely literal translation would simply repeat the word twice, as it appears in the Biblical language.

I’m not certain of this, but all uses of double language, with the exception of names, appear to apply with verbs rather than nouns. Words such as listen, see, tithe, strike, heal, are all used repetitively in their active forms (I’ll have to ask an English teacher for the specific grammatical term for such verbiage). In this instance, however, the repeated word is a noun. Justice, justice you shall pursue. The verb in this phrase is “pursue.” It would be more in line with the Torah’s pattern to state: Pursue and pursue justice. Or, as translators would probably put it – Justice you shall surely pursue. The repetition of a noun is something of an anomaly.

Grammar aside, the repetition of the word “justice” has captured the intrigue of commentaries, and numerous ideas are advanced to explain the emphasis the Torah places upon the quest for justice. The great Hassidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa presents a charming interpretation of the phrase, which reflects the spirit of many explanations given by other commentaries in a most succinct manner. Justice shall be pursued through justice. The great goal and end of justice does not justify all means in attaining it. The means as well must be just. Our pursuit of justice, explains Reb Bunim, m