צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף
Justice, justice shall you pursue.
These words, in this weeks’ parasha, are famous and underlie so much of who we are. But what is justice?
Benjamin Disraeli used the phrase: “Justice is truth in action”.
“Tzedek“ means “justice” or “righteousness,” it is related to “tzedakah,” usually translated in English as “charity.” The word ”Charity” derives from the Latin “Caritas” meaning “love” or “regard” an act of love. We, as Jews, understand Tzedakah, to be a duty.
Set out in Shoftim is a whole scheme of righteousness. The behaviour of a king: the rules of war; the cities of refuge and the need for fairness in judgement. It is in marked contrast to the other law codes of the time. The Code of Hammurabi is often cited as the oldest of written laws: it mandates some forms of social justice but is a brutal code.
The Parshah concludes with the law of the eglah arufah, when a body is found in a field and the neighbouring community makes atonement. It is the community responding to the individual who requires justice.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel taught that: “Civilisation is preserved by three things, by truth, by justice and by peace”.
In a ketubah or a wedding invitation you may well find the words
וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט
“And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice”
And this is what we say when we put on tzitzit.