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Unlike other faiths, Judaism does not foresee this world to be one of perfection of the entire human condition. Thus in this week’s Torah reading we are told to create a system of legal justice and means of enforcement of law and order. Society cannot simply rely on the good will and innate good nature of people; this leads to anarchy and chaos. To this end, judges and police are part of the matrix of any civilized society

Since the Torah is speaking to a seemingly observant religious society, it may seem incongruous, at first glance, to understand the emphasis that the Torah places on law, order and enforcement.  The realism and practicality of Torah dictates that there is bound to be disputes between people, that money is a strong temptation no matter how pious one may be and that many times people fear police in a manner and intensity greater than their supposed fear of God.
One of the seven basic Noachide commandments is that all societies must create a legitimate system of legal justice and to provide for its enforcement. Naturally, the Torah demands of us just laws, honest judges and fair treatment before the legal bar.
We read in Psalms that it is possible, if not even likely, to create evil, bias and unfairness by legal means. The history of civilization is strewn with unfair laws that discriminate, exploit and oppress others. The Torah, upon ordering us to have a society of law and order immediately commands us to pursue righteousness and fairness through virtuous and moral means.
Since all judges, no matter how great and pious they may be, are still essentially only human beings, as such, there can never be a guaranteed correct and fair judgment of every case in dispute. The practice in rabbinic Jewish courts of law is to attempt to achieve a compromise that will somehow and somewhat satisfy both parties in the dispute.
In many cases, if not in most, the Jewish judge acts as an arbitrator. Ultimate justice is a very difficult thing to achieve. There are always ramifications of a judicial decision that create unforeseen circumstances and potential difficulties.
The same is true for judicial enforcement.  We are taught that the ultimate judgment belongs to the Creator. Only Heaven sees and judges the collateral effects of events and of human decisions. The Talmud, in realizing the human condition, states that a judge can only decide on the basis of what his eyes see. He can only decide the case that is known before him and not the unintended consequences.
This is not only meant to be an exoneration of judicial liability but it is even, more importantly, a clear recognition of human limitations. The perfect judge and the perfect court do not exist in our time. This undoubted lack of perfection does not free us from the obligation to create the best and fairest legal system.  This is a never ending task but one that always requires our efforts and energies.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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