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Human justice is often unjust, even cruel in the extreme. The barbarism of the Medieval Era was perpetrated in the name of justice. The Psalmist commented ruefully that people construct evil lawfully through legislation and court decisions. The experiences of the past century with Germany, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, etc. certainly suffice to illustrate this sad point.
One person’s sense of justice is another person's sense of injustice…. and again, even cruelty. Therefore the Torah commanded us to search for a court of justices who would be honest and moral people, who feared God more than they did humans, who were free of preconceived prejudices and social agendas. These types of courts were, as you can imagine, not too abundant and not easily found. The Talmud lists for us such exemplary rabbinic courts, in the second and third centuries CE in the Land of Israel.
We have never seen their equal in later generations. Yet the Torah, which is eternal, has set the bar very high for human courts and for justice. It does not demand absolute infallible justice from fallible human beings - a judge can only judge and decide on the basis of what his eyes see and his ears hear - but it nevertheless less warns us of the dangers of willful and even subconscious corruption and personal prejudice.
The pursuit of justice is a never-ending goal, even if we realize that its absolute attainment is beyond our reach. The Torah deals with the pursuit of justice - the pursuit itself becoming the actual goal. All of the values of Jewish life are encapsulated in the furtherance of that pursuit. It is a challenge that faces us eternally.
We are aware of the constant carping and criticism of our current courts, secular and rabbinic. Since there are always two sides to every case that the courts hear and decide, the losing side rarely accepts the decision gracefully and with equanimity. There is a great deal of ego involved in all disputes, monetary, political and social. Without courts and judges, anarchy would reign and life would become unlivable.
But confidence in the integrity of the courts and its judges is the bedrock of judicial authority. When that confidence is undermined by corruption, preconceived social agendas and very questionable interpretations of the law, then the effectiveness of the justice system becomes severely impaired. The Torah warns us of this societal danger.
We are ordained to pursue justice at all costs. This is especially true in a country that is attempting to combine Jewish tradition and observances with a form of secular democratic government. The pursuit of justice then becomes two-pronged, a struggle fought simultaneously on two fronts. May the Lord help us in this attempt to pursue justice throughout our political and social societies, as well as in our religious world.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein 

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