Friday, August 9, 2013

Standing in Judgment

This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, (Deut. 16:18-21:9) begins with Moses recounting to the people how God commanded us to administer justice.  “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates…and they shall judge the people with just judgment”.  The next verses go on to remind us what just judgment is, as it has been stated in the Torah previously on three occasions: no favoritism to any person for any reason, neither out of sympathy for a poor person or honor of a wealthy one, and no acceptance of a bribe.  

This Shabbat is the first one in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah in which we examine our thoughts and our actions preparing for our own judgment.  We will not stand before any human court of law, but before the divine Judge.   

The belief that justice belongs to God does not absolve us of responsibility in the administration of justice.  We may not shrug our shoulders and say, “God is the true judge; this person will receive divine judgment in time.”  Rather, it gives us an increased responsibility.  Just as God judges justly, we are commanded to follow God’s example, and carry out justice on this earth. 

Rashi, the great medieval Torah commentator wrote: “Do not think in your heart: What difference does it meake if we pervert justice to acquit our friend or wrest the judgment of the poor or respect the person of the rich?  Surely judgment does not belong to God.  For this reason the text (Chron. 19:6) states “but for the Lord” – it is His.  If you have convicted the innocent, it is as if you have taken from your Creator and perverted the judgment of Heaven to mete out a  crooked judgment.  Therefore consider what you do and conduct yourself in every judgment as if the Holy One, blessed be, were standing before you in judgment.  This is the meaning of the phrase, “He is with you in giving judgment”.

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