Much of this week’s parasha, Shoftim (magistrates), is focused on the importance of setting of a proper legal system. Moses speaks about all sorts of important facets to this system including, “a single witness may not validate against a person any guilt or blame for any offense that may be committed; a case can be valid only on the testimony of two witnesses or more.”
The underlying premise of all of the rules found in Shoftim is that there can be no shalom (peace) in the land until a system allowing for legal redress is established.
There is a fascinating podcast entitled: “Against the Rules with Michael Lewis.” This podcast “takes a searing look at what’s happened to fairness—in financial markets, newsrooms, basketball games, courts of law, and much more. And he asks what’s happening to a world where everyone loves to hate the referee.” Michael Lewis asks some very tough questions especially about what happens when there no longer is a referee, and who suffers because of it.
Fairness is not necessarily a central concept to Jewish practice, but inherent to Judaism is the pursuit of what is just and right. As it states in the beginning of Shoftim, “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue.” This phrase is known well, but what is equally as important is what follows, “that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Eternal your God is giving you.” This idea of thriving in the land being connected to the creation and support of a just and right society may not be uniquely Jewish, but it is a core part of our tradition and our mission.
This is possibly why Jews have suffered throughout the millennia because we have served, in a way, as God’s appointed referee. As a people, we are supposed to stand for what is just and right. And even in times where people are starting to hate the referee even more, how the more so is it important to stand up for what is tzedek, justice.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff