Shofetim: Who goes first?

Justice, justice you shall pursue. (Devarim 16:20).
The laden camel
lumbers slowly, up
the steep ascent
to Beth Choron:
the man alongside
eyes the jagged path.

A shadow falls
across the trail:
he lifts his gaze
as to a mirror;
another camel,
another man.

If all ascend
the narrow way
they plunge
to the depths.

One camel laden;
the other, further
from journey’s end;
true justice calls
each man
to see the other.

Biblical commentators discuss the meaning of the duplication of the word tzedek – justice. The Hertz commentary offers two further translations of this phrase, tzedek tzedek: “that which is altogether just,” and “justice, and only justice,” commenting, “The duplication of the word “justice” brings out with the greatest possible emphasis the supreme duty of even-handed justice for all.”
Bachya ben Asher* comments, “Justice, whether to your profit or your loss, whether in word or in action, whether to Jew or non-Jew.”
Rashi explains that this duplication means one should seek out a reliable court. Ibn Ezra notes that the command “you shall pursue – tirdof” is phrased in the singular so maintains that it is incumbent on every judge individually to uphold righteousness. Nachmanides agrees but adds that the judges should also seek out the advice of sages greater than themselves.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim (Bonhart) of Peshischa teaches, “Pursue justice with justice. Also the pursuit of justice should be through honorable means, not through deviousness.” Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel** sharpens up this point, “Justice alone is not enough, because from the human view-point there are many kinds of justice, just as there are many kinds of truth…every regime has its own “justice”. Therefore it is written, “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” that is the justice of justice. That also the purpose and also the means will come from an ethical source.”
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 32b), we find the following:
It has been taught: Justice, justice shall you follow; the first [mention of justice] refers to a decision based on strict law; the second, to a compromise. How so? Where two boats sailing on a river meet; if both attempt to pass simultaneously, both will sink, whereas, if one makes way for the other, both can pass [without mishap]. Likewise, if two camels meet each other while on the ascent to Beth-Horon; if they both ascend [at the same time] both may tumble down [into the valley]; but if [they ascend] after each other, both can go up [safely]. How then should they act? If one is laden and the other unladen, the latter should give way to the former. If one is nearer [to its destination] than the other, the former should give way to the latter. If both are [equally] near or far [from their destination,] make a compromise between them, the one [which is to go forward] compensating the other [which has to give way].
[Soncino translation]
In an article on Parashat Shofetim, entitled Pursuing Justice for All, Rabbi Marc D Israel suggests that the passage from the Talmud is teaching that true justice is reached when all members of the group’s needs are taken into consideration, not only the individual’s needs.

*Bachya ben Asher ibn Halawa, also known as Rabbeinu Behaye (1255 – 1340), was a rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was a commentator on the Torah.
He is considered by Jewish scholars to be one of the most distinguished of the Biblical exegetes of Spain. He was a pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the Rashba). Unlike the latter, R’ Bachya did not publish a Talmud commentary. In his biblical exegesis, R’ Bachya took the Ramban, who was the teacher of the Rashba, as his model. The Ramban was the first major commentator to make extensive use of the Kabbalah as a means of interpreting the Torah. R’ Bachya was a darshan – a preacher – in his native city of Saragossa, a position he shared with several others. He received a meagre salary, scarcely enough to support him and his family. However, neither his financial straits nor the reverses that he suffered (to which he refers in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah) diminished his interest in Torah study in general, and in Biblical exegesis in particular.
In the preparation of R’ Bachya’s commentary on the Torah, he thoroughly investigated the works of former Biblical exegetes, and used all the methods employed by them in his interpretations. R’ Bachya believed that the method of the Kabbalah, termed by him “the path of light,” which the truth-seeking soul must travel, facilitates the revelation of the deep mysteries hidden in the Torah. However, he does not reveal any of his Kabbalistic sources, other than generally referring to Sefer ha-Bahir and the works of Nachmanides. He only mentions the Zohar twice.
R’ Bachya’s commentary is considered to derive a particular charm from its form. Each parashah is prefaced by an introduction preparing the reader for the fundamental ideas to be discussed; and this introduction bears a motto in the form of a verse selected from the Book of Proverbs. Furthermore, by the questions that are frequently raised, R’ Bachya invites his readers to participate in his mental processes.
The commentary was first printed at Naples in 1492 and became very popular as evidenced by the numerous supercommentaries published on it (at least 10). Owing to the extensive allusions to the Kabbalah, the work was particularly valuable to Kabbalists, although Rabbi Bachya also availed himself of non-Jewish sources.
His next most famous work was his Kad ha-Kemach – Receptacle of the Flour (published in Constantinople in 1515.) It consists of sixty chapters, alphabetically arranged, containing discourses and dissertations on the requirements of religion and morality, as well as Jewish ritual practices. Kad ha-Kemach is a work of Musar literature, the purpose of which is to promote a moral life. In it, R’ Bachya discusses belief and faith in God; the divine attributes and the nature of providence; the duty of loving God, and of walking before God in simplicity and humility of heart; the fear of God; Jewish prayer; benevolence, and the love of mankind; peace; the administration of justice, and the sacredness of the oath; the duty of respecting the property and honor of one’s fellow man; the Jewish holidays, and halacha.

**Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (1883-1946) was an orthodox rabbi, author, orator and philosopher. He was born in Porozov in Russia. He studied in the local Talmud Torah until age 13 when he went to study in the Telz Yeshiva. Three years later he moved to Yeshivat Brisk and learned under Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. One year later, he went to learn under Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski in Vilna. At age 18 he received Semichah and at age 23 he was appointed Rabbi of Swieciany, where he established a large yeshiva. In 1913, he became Rabbi of Grajewo, a town on the Russian-German border. It was during this time that Rabbi Amiel was acknowledged as a great public preacher with outstanding oratory skills. He became one of the first rabbis to publicly join the Mizrachi movement and Zionist organization, applying his speaking and writing abilities to the cause of Religious Zionism and national questions. In 1920 he was elected as one of the delegates to represent Mizrachi of Poland at the Mizrachi World Convention in Amsterdam. There he made such an impression upon the Jewish community that he was given the post of Rabbi of Antwerp, one of the largest and richest Jewish communities of the time. He set up a system of lower yeshivot for girls and boys by creating the Jewish Day School (as it came to be known in America), as well as religious institutes of higher learning.
In 1936 Rabbi Amiel made aliyah in order to serve as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv which encompassed the largest concentration of Jewish population in the yishuv. This demanded the need to maintain harmonious relations between the religious and non-religious segments of the community. During his leadership he set up a yeshiva high school (the first modern high school yeshiva) which taught religious subjects in the morning and secular in the afternoon. This yeshiva, named Yeshivat Ha’Yishuv HeChadash, was used as the pattern for the B’nei Akiva yeshivot which were subsequently established. After his death the yeshiva was renamed Yeshivat Ha’Rav Amiel.
Rabbi Amiel drew on his extensive background in Talmud, Halachah and Midrash in his analytical writings. He authored several books, among them: Derashot el Ami (Sermons to my People); Am Segulah (A Treasured Nation); L’Nevuchai HaTekufah (Light for an Age of Confusion); HaMidot L’Cheker HaHalachah (Ethics and Legality in Jewish Law).


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