Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

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Parshas Shoftim

In Pursuit of Justice

Justice, justice, you shall pursue... (16:20)

What is the Torah teaching us by the repetition “Justice, justice”?

It is not enough to attain some degree of justice. Like a little knowledge, a little justice can be a dangerous thing, even leading to great injustice. Evil masquerading as justice is even worse than evil undisguised. Therefore, even when there is justice, still, pursue justice further (Sfas Emes, Shoftim 5635)

An extreme example of a degree of justice not sufficiently pursued is that of those 'honest, law abiding citizens' who delivered Jews to the Nazis, because it would be "wrong to tell a lie", and illegal to conceal them. Their 'justice' made them full accomplices in the Nazi crimes.

(Another explanation for the repetition of “justice” and for the word “pursue”, is that since only G-d can attain absolute justice and humans can only pursue it, therefore there can be no end to our pursuit of that G-dly idea. Even as we attain some degree of “justice”, we must “pursue justice” further. (Sfas Emes, Shoftim 5631)

Yet another explanation is suggested by the Yehudi haKadosh, zt"l. “Justice” should be the means of “pursuing justice”. Just ends do not justify unjust means. When we pursue justice, it must be in a just manner.

(Only thus, can the ideals of the first two explanations be realized, too.) (Sfas Emes, Shoftim 5631)

Once, before Succos, a chassid bought a beautiful lulav for the Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, zt"l. The Bais Yisroel did not accept presents, and asked the chassid what was owed him. Knowing of the Bais Yisroel's distaste for overpricing, the chassid decided to mention a lesser amount - with the justification that the lesser amount was indeed paid (as part of the larger price). But the Bais Yisroel sensed his thoughts, and said, “Quiet! Better to remain silent than to say something that falls short of the absolute truth”!

"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes"- excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah"(Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.


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