Thursday, August 31, 2017

Parshat Ki Teitze - Dysfunctional Relationships

Dysfunctional Relationships
Parashat Ki Teitze starts with war and ends with war. It begins with a man in the heat of battle who spies an attractive woman from the opposing side, and ends with instructions regarding the ultimate battle with Amalek. In between, the portion is packed with commandments; in fact, more commandments are found in this parasha than any other.
Although tradition may discourage us from seeking out the reasons or rationale for mitzvot, here in Deuteronomy, we may glean insights into certain mitzvot from their context.1 Thus, the Sages discerned a cause-and-effect relationship among the first three topics in the parasha: a beautiful wife, taken in battle, will lead to a situation in which a man has one favored wife and one whom he rejects, which in turn leads to the "rebellious son." 2
As the Sages see it, the rebellious child does not develop in a vacuum; he is the result of a dysfunctional home. This child's mother was wrested from her family and homeland. Her value system would surely be at odds with that of her Jewish husband. The dissonance felt by this child would most likely be the cause of his own antipathy to Jewish mores and tradition. Additionally, this child seems genetically challenged, as it were: The father practiced poor self-control and sought immediate gratification. Is it any wonder that this child cannot exercise self-restraint? 3
Interestingly enough, the Rabbis felt that there never was and never would be a "real" rebellious child.4 This is not to say that such a child never existed.5 Rather, the courts could never successfully prosecute and adjudicate such a case, due to the myriad conditions required for a conviction:6 One of the conditions for establishing guilt is that the rebellious son does not listen "to his father and to his mother":
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them. (Deuteronomy 21:18)
The Talmud explains that the rebellious child will only be guilty if both parents speak with one united voice:
MISHNAH. If his father desires [to have him punished], but not his mother, or the reverse, he is not treated as a 'stubborn and rebellious son', unless they both desire it. R. Yehudah said: 'If his mother is not fit for his father, he does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son'.
GEMARA. What is meant by 'NOT FIT'? Shall we say that she is forbidden to him under penalty of extinction or capital punishment at the hand of Beth din; but after all, his father is his father, and his mother is his mother? - But he means not physically like his father. It has been taught likewise: R. Yehudah said: If his mother is not like his father in voice, appearance and stature, he does not become a rebellious son. Why so? - The Torah says, 'he will not obey our voice', and since they must be alike in voice, they must be also in appearance and stature. With whom does the following Baraitha agree: There never has been a stubborn and rebellious son, and never will be. Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 71a
The Talmud understood that the conditions for convicting a person as a 'rebellious child' are many, including, quite literally, that both parents have the same voice. The Mishna understood this stipulation more figuratively, in a manner surprisingly similar to our current ideas of effective parenting: The parents must be of one voice, not in pitch and cadence, but in content. The Mishna effectively turns the focus of scrutiny away from the rebellious child, and focuses on the parents and the messages this child received from them over the years. As a result, the child who is most likely to be rebellious due to the fractured home life, would be the very child whom the law exonerates of responsibility - not because he doesn't warrant punishment,7 but because he is not seen as necessarily responsible for his actions. In the Talmudic formulation, the child gets off on a technicality: his parents' lack of physical similarity. In the Mishnaic formulation, the child is spared because of the gap between the parents' worldviews, religious and otherwise, and their failure to effectively parent their offspring.
The theme of relationships - how to build them, how to keep them intact, and how to heal them in the event that they are damaged - can be seen as the overriding theme of the parsha. This parsha treats such diverse but related topics as marriage, divorce, rape, prostitution, and even cross-dressing. Drawing a line of thought between the particulars may help us gain insight into the larger theme.
In one particular case, a very strict limitation is placed upon interpersonal relationships. In a departure from what we have come to expect in this parsha, we need not exert ourselves in an examination of the context in order to discern some reason for the prohibition; the Torah explains the prohibition in a clear statement of rationale:
An Ammonite or Moavite shall not enter into the Congregation of God; to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the Congregation of God forever; Because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bil'am the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless the Almighty, your God, would not listen to Bil'am; but the Almighty, your God, turned the curse into a blessing to you, because the Almighty your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever. (Deuteronomy 23:4-7)
Amon and Moav were raised in a strange family unit: they were both the products of incest. Their mothers were sisters who got their father drunk, and seduced him in his stupor.
And Lot went up out of Zoar, and lived in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to live in Zoar; and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, 'Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth; Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father.' And they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the next day, that the firstborn said to the younger, 'Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine this night also; and you go in, and lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father.' And they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moav; he is the father of the Moavites to this day. And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites to this day. (Bereishit 19:30-38)
Lot, the ne'er-do-well nephew of the illustrious Avraham, saw his world crumble around him. His first tragic mistake was taking leave of Avraham: His status as the heir apparent of Avraham's fortune should have placated him, and smoothed over any ill will that had developed between the shepherds of his flocks and Avraham's shepherds. Avraham, known for his delight in taking in strangers, realized that there was only one solution for the conflict, and suggested a parting of the ways:
And there was strife between the herdsmen of Avram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle; and the Canaanite and the Perizzite lived then in the land. And Avram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife, I beg you, between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself, I beg you, from me; if you will take the left, then I will go to the right; or if you depart to the right, then I will go to the left. (Bereishit 13:7-9)
Avraham speaks of "left and right," normally understood as north and south, yet Lot travels eastward, to a place that reminds him of Egypt, which in itself was not known for its morality: He travels to Sodom.
And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before God destroyed Sodom and Amorrah, like the garden of God, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself the valley of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east, and they separated themselves, one from the other. Avram lived in the land of Canaan, and Lot lived in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinners before God. (Genesis 13:10-13)
There is something terribly wrong with a person who would leave the tent of Avraham and choose a place like Sodom. Sodom looked to him like an oasis; surely, Lot was motivated by aspirations of wealth and power. But soon Sodom was destroyed, his home gone, and even his wife was lost. He escaped with only the clothes on his back and his two daughters, products of the Sodomite educational system. These daughters each present Lot with sons, Moav and Amon, each of whom are progenitors of great nations.
These sons enter the world with a stigma: Their father/grandfather has made countless bad decisions, and their mothers instigated incest with their own father. It is not hard to surmise how such children would have felt: hurt, angry, disenfranchised, full of resentment. Yet the Torah teaches a remarkable lesson: These nations are forbidden to the Jewish people; descendents of Amon and Moav are not to be accepted as converts to Judaism. But why? Not because they are genetically inferior, or racially tainted, but "because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bil'am the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you."
The second half of the verse is understandable: They conspired to curse the Jews, reason enough for maintaining a healthy distance. Moreover, the "Plan B" tactic employed by Amon and Moav in their quest to destroy Israel was even more telling: The daughters of Moav were sent to seduce the men of Israel.8 Given the history and origins of these nations, we begin to understand that their basic character has not changed. This, too, could have been a valid reason for excluding them from the Congregation for all time. But this deeply disturbing incident is not cited in our parsha. Rather, it is their failure to greet us in the desert with food and drink that illustrates their unsavory character.
Why would we expect Moav to live up to this highly elevated moral standard? We can only assume that the answer lies in their forefather Lot's background: Lot grew up in Avraham's tent. Despite Lot's possible feelings of abandonment, despite Moav and Amon's feelings of rejection, despite the dysfunctional family that produced Moav and Amon, they should have known better, and behaved as any relative of Avraham knew was the proper way to deal with others - certainly with relatives. They are expected to behave as Avraham would have, to greet travelers with food and drink. In this instance, the Torah is unforgiving. We are not meant to summon up "understanding" or "empathy" for those who are products of a dysfunctional home, children born of twisted relationships, the products of incest who may have suffered ridicule, who could have blamed their parents for all their problems. The Torah rules that a positive educational message should have filtered through, and not only the negative feelings of resentment and anger. Despite their origins and upbringing, the descendents of Lot should have performed kindness.
The lesson for all of us is unavoidable: Human beings - children and adults -are often tempted to blame others for their own shortcomings, but the Torah does not allow us to place the blame with our upbringing, our parents or ancestors, or other situations beyond our control. Every human being has Free Will; this means that, along with any negative experiences, there are positive lessons that each of us may have learned from the challenges in our past. The responsible individual must choose to reject the negative and distill positive lessons from any given experience. Cycles of abuse and pain can and must be broken, as the case of Amon and Moav illustrates: Even many generations down the line, we have the right to expect moral behavior on the part of Lot's descendents. Despite Lot's many failings, despite the challenging background and difficult life-experiences of his descendents, God has expectations of those raised in the Tent of Avraham. Amon and Moav, as descendents of Lot, had so many positive lessons to learn. They were punished for choosing to focus on their own feelings of disenfranchisement, their experiences of cruelty and selfishness, their own anger and sense of fatalistic doom. For their choices, and not for their history, they are forever banned from the Congregation of God.
The case of the rebellious son teaches us that even though the trajectory of this human tragedy can be anticipated, and the law will exculpate the child, it is ultimately his own choices, his own use of Free Will, that will either uplift him or cause him to crash.
Each and every one of us, emotional scars and personal failures notwithstanding, is called upon by the laws of the Torah to make a similar choice. We are reminded, through the unlikely example of Amon and Moav, that we are all descendants of someone who grew up in the tents of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, Ya'akov, Rachel and Leah. There is greatness within our collective memory, and therefore within our abilities and our selves. Focusing on anger and failure can easily develop into self-fulfilling, negative prophesies, leading down the path to the "rebellious son", to fractured homes and decimated communities. Alternatively, we can each make the conscious choice to learn positive lessons from our negative experiences, and raise ourselves as individuals and families to the higher moral ground prepared for us by our ancestors.

1. See Talmud Bavli Yevamot 4a.
2. See the comments of Rashi 21:11.
3. See comments of the Ibn Ezra Devarim 21:18.
4. Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin: There never has been a stubborn and rebellious son, and never will be. Why then was the law written? That you may study it and receive reward.
5. The Talmud op. cit. relates that the grave of such a child was seen by Rav Yochanan: "R. Jonathan said: I saw him and sat on his grave."
6. See Toldot Yitzchak Devarim 21:18.
7. This child himself is not punished for what he has done, rather it is anticipated how this child will continue to degenerate morally if he continues upon the same trajectory. Mishnah: A stubborn and rebellious son is tried on account of his ultimate destiny: let him die innocent and let him not die guilty.
8. Bamidbar 25:1.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Parashat Shoftim - Justice, Justice

Justice, Justice
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, throughout your tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert judgment; you shall not respect persons, nor take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Deut. 16:18-20)

This week's Torah portion begins with broad social concerns, namely the establishment of justice. In a sense, one may view these concerns as transcending the "religious" realm, but clearly a nation that will live in their own land requires what Rousseau called a "social contract."

As we have seen in other instances, the Torah's way of life is exceedingly broad; consequently, the Torah does not limit its legislation to "religious" issues. Torts and damages make up a significant part of the legal sections of the Torah.

Now, as the Children of Israel find themselves at the threshold of the Land of Israel, and social ideals will hopefully be translated into a utopian society on earth, Moses returns to the principles laid out in other sections of the Torah.

When it comes time to translate the theory into practice, judges will be needed to apply the law, and police will be needed to enforce the law, thus the Torah, in the verses quoted above, exhorts the people to refine social justice to unprecedented levels. Justice must not be perverted as such behavior would circumvent the entire judicial system.

There is one verse, though, that is most challenging:

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Why is the term justice repeated?

* * *

One may posit that the repetition is a literary device employed for emphasis. Such usage is common. (See this week's Haftorah for four examples of such usage: Isaiah 51:12,17 52:1,11). However, the word "pursue" implies an ongoing endeavor, a striving to succeed. Why would the repetition be necessary in addition to this very strong term?

The Talmud addresses both parts of the phrase:

Our Rabbis taught: Justice, justice shall you pursue means, "You shall follow an eminent Court of Justice." (Sanhedrin 32b)

The word which the Talmud is focusing on is "pursue." How does one pursue justice? By finding a superior tribunal. The Talmud adds a proactive prescription:

Our Rabbis taught: Justice, justice shall you pursue, means, "Follow the scholars to their academies." (Sanhedrin 32b)

The message here is that the best way to avoid the necessity for justice to be meted out by the courts is to obtain a quality education. Both of these Talmudic comments expound on the word "pursue." This tradition is mirrored in the words of Rashi (based on the Sifri):

Go after a good court. (Rashi 16:20)

However, we are still mystified regarding the meaning of the doubling of the word "justice." The explanations which we have seen up to this point would still apply had the verse read, "Justice pursue" or, "Pursue justice." On the same page the Talmud cites another teaching, which directly addresses this point:

R. Ashi said: "Justice, justice you shall pursue, the first [mention of justice] refers to a decision based on strict law; the second, to a compromise."(Sanhedrin 32b)

Here we find the Talmud directly discussing the repetition of "justice." The suggestion of the Talmud is fascinating: there are, in fact, two types of justice: strict law, and compromise.

* * *

The Talmud further illustrates the principle with the following example:
How so? For example:

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]. (Sanhedrin 32b)

The "justice" described here is situational, subjective. The locale is not the pristine courts of law but the mundane rivers and streets. Here, too, justice must be pursued. Finding equitable solutions to complex practical situations is part and parcel of the pursuit of justice.

When the modern State of Israel was established, the first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, posed the following question to various rabbis: "How does a modern secular state coexist with the religious community, which bases its existence on different values and laws?"

The Chazon Ish, arguably the most eminent rabbi of his age, responded that points of conflict could be resolved based on the Talmudic passage cited above. "When two camels meet at a narrow ledge, we must look, which of the two have been traveling longer and bearing a greater burden." The Chazon Ish concluded that this analogy certainly applies to the religious community, and that the State should therefore "step aside and respect those values carried for millennia."

We have seen the opinion that the repetition of "justice" point to different types of justice, "strict law" and "compromise." There is an alternative approach to the two types of justice, found in the writings of Rabbenu Nissim of Gerondi. In order to understand his position, let us consider a passage of Talmud he cited:

Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov said: "I have heard that the court may ... pronounce sentences even where not [warranted] by the Torah; yet not with the intention of disregarding the Torah but [on the contrary] in order to safeguard it." (Sanhedrin 46a)

The teaching in the Talmud is most surprising -- how can the court punish in a manner contrary to its own rules? The mandate of the court is to judge according to the rules laid down in the Torah, and there can be no extenuating considerations for a court, which must uphold the law. Or could there be?

* * *


In Biblical times, there was, according to Rabbenu Nissim, a system of checks and balances revolving around the king. The monarch in ancient Israel had a mandate to impose sentences outside of the normal legal establishment.

The reason for empowering the king in this way was to safeguard the spirit of the law from being trampled by strict adherence to the letter of the law. The mandate of the courts was to uphold the letter of the law, while the mandate of the king was to uphold the spirit of the law.

This dichotomy created a wonderful, balanced whole. When the courts functioned as an autonomous arm of the legal system, adhering to and enforcing every law, the danger still existed that things might "fall between the cracks." In such cases, the king would act, guaranteeing that the spirit of the law remained intact.

This system, though, has a built-in danger. By definition, the role of the king was antinomian. What prevented the king from abusing this awesome power?

Rabbenu Nissim presents a beautiful image in answer to this question. We know that there is a law that the king must carry a Torah scroll with him at all times. Rabbenu Nissim explains that the very person empowered to break the law must hold the Torah near and dear. The kings of Israel were therefore commanded to hold the Torah with them at all times, as a reminder of what was at stake.

This analysis, interesting as it may be, does not seem to provide any insight into the passage cited above in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov concerning unusual measures taken by the courts.

Rabbenu Nissim explains that the Talmud is describing the situation after the abolishment of the monarchy. In the absence of the king, the role of the king reverted to the courts. Then the courts wore two hats, of upholders of the letter of the law and of safeguarders of the spirit of the law.

When a case ended according to the normative, prescribed process, the judges had to ask themselves a new question: "Was justice served?" If the answer was negative, the judges assumed the role of the king, and sought out the spirit of the law.

Again, the people entrusted with this task were those with the greatest affinity for the Torah and its values.

* * *


There are times where the law must be set aside in order to upkeep the law:

It is time to work for the Lord; they have made void your Torah
(Psalms 119:126).

The Talmud uses this verse as scriptural license to adjudicate and legislate against explicit Torah laws in order to uphold the Torah:

Raba said: "The first clause of this verse can be taken as explaining the second, and the second can be taken as explaining the first ... thus: It is time to work for the Lord. Why? Because they have made void your Torah. [And] thus: They have made void your Torah. Why? Because it is time to work for the Lord." (Brachot 63)

The upkeep of a system of law, where justice thrives, is one of the goals of Torah. The Talmud goes so far as to declare that:

Every judge who judges a true judgment according to its truth even for a single hour, the Writ gives him credit as though he had become a partner to the Holy One, blessed be He, in the Creation. (Shabbat 10a)

Utilizing the Torah, and bringing its lofty ideas into this world, makes one a partner with God. But this will only be the case when the law is judged according to "truth." Using the proper tools but arriving at the wrong conclusion is not "a true judgment according to its truth."

The strict letter of the law arrived at via the judicial process may be lacking. The Sh"la haKadosh similarly explains the verse:

Justice, justice shall you pursue. It says "Justice" twice. The first is directed to the judges who judge in accordance with Torah law. There is a second "justice" for compromise or emergency decrees, which are done occasionally by a prophet or king, in order for the world to exist. Therefore, the verse concludes that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. As the Sages said "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law." (Shnay Luchot HaBrit, Shoftim 101a)

The first part of the teaching is the same as the idea we saw expressed by Rabbenu Nissim. The concluding remarks are based on a passage in the Talmud:

For Rabbi Johanan said: "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law ... they based their judgments [strictly] upon Biblical law, and did not go beyond the letter of the law." (Bava Metzia 30b)

Strict adherence to law can be destructive. Jerusalem, the center of the Torah world, the place from which Torah is to flow forth, was destroyed because the Torah, as it was lived there, did not bring about a merger with God. Somehow, the partnership did not develop, and Jerusalem became rubble.

* * *

Nachmanides' understanding of the verse is that one "justice" refers to earthly courts, while the other "justice" refers to the heavenly tribunal. If man does not succeed in bringing about a just world, real judgment awaits him above. Nachmanides bases his teaching on the Sefer Bahir, one of the most obscure mystical tracts:

The first justice is literal justice. This is the Divine presence ... The second justice "frightens the righteous." (Bahir section 75)

If man succeeds in attaining justice, the Divine presence, the Shechina flows. On the other hand, if man does not create a just world, Divine judgment is applied.

Justice must be strived for, not only on a national level but on an individual level, for there is a Divine reaction to man's handiwork on the individual level as well. And just as a nation may lose focus of the spirit of the law, so may the individual. This may be illustrated by the following passage:

The Halacha is always in agreement with the House of Hillel, but he who wishes to act in agreement with the ruling of the House of Shammai may do so, and he who wishes to act according to the view of the House of Hillel may do so. [He, however, who adopts] the more lenient rulings of the House of Shammai and the more lenient rulings of the House of Hillel is a wicked man. [While of the man who adopts] the restrictions of the House of Shammai and the restrictions of the House of Hillel, the Scripture says: But the fool walks in darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:14). A man should rather act either in agreement with the House of Shammai both in their lenient and their restrictive rulings or in agreement with the House of Hillel in both their lenient and their restrictive rulings. (Eruvin 6b)

We can understand why the person who religiously adheres to the lenient opinion is considered wicked: He consistently avoids developing his relationship with God by performing the minimum required of him. But wherein lies the foolishness of the person who picks the strict opinion of each side? Should he not be applauded for his zeal?

The answer is subtle yet profound: This person is no longer using law in order to relate to God, rather, he is worshiping the law itself. The letter of the law becomes his god. His sensibilities have caused him to obscure his relationship with God, which becomes dysfunctional as a result. The individual must seek truth, whether it is lenient or strict, and those who are unable to do so alone, the textually challenged, should find a spiritual master, and follow him consistently.

The Imrei Emet from the Gur dynasty brings down a teaching which relates this idea back to our Torah portion:

We [generally] do not find the Torah legislating distancing from prohibitions, for all the fences and limitations are rabbinic, only regarding falsehood is the distancing a Torah law. The Sfat Emet explained that the same idea is found regarding truth; pursing truth is a Torah law. "Go after a good court" is in actuality the mitzvah to seek truth ... Searching for the truth is dependent on the individual, and he will receive assistance from heaven ... (Imrei Emet Shmot 5688)

When man seeks truth, help comes from heaven, but the search must be sincere. When we succeed we become partners with God, for we have found truth -- which is God's seal.

Loving kindness and truth meet together;righteousness and peace kiss each other.Truth shall spring from the earth;and righteousness shall look down from heaven.Also, the Lord shall give that which is good;and our land shall yield her produce.        --  (Psalms 85:11-13)

* * *


When man seeks and finds truth here on earth, God's righteousness flows from heaven. The Sages explain these verses in a celebrated passage of Midrash:

Rabbi Simon said: "When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, 'Let him be created,' whilst others urged, 'Let him not be created.' Thus it is written, Love and truth fought together, righteousness and peace combatted each other. Love said, 'Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love'; Truth said, 'Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood'; Righteousness said, 'Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds'; Peace said, 'Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.' What did the Lord do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!' Hence it is written, Let truth spring up from the earth (Psalms 85:12)."

Rabbi Huna the Elder of Sepphoris said: "While the ministering angels were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, the Holy One, blessed be He, created him. Said He to them: 'What can ye avail? Man has already been made!'" (Midrash Rabbah Breishit 8:5)

Man seeks truth in his own domain, which is not always a simple task. But when he succeeds, he becomes partners with God, which is something which even escapes the understanding of the angels. The pursuit of justice is the pursuit of truth. Both the individual and the society must seek justice and truth, for when we succeed the Shechina dwells among us, we become partners with God. When we seek truth, we are aided from Heaven.

But the Midrash in this week's portion teaches that there is even more at stake:
God said to Israel:

'My children, by your life, as a result of your respecting justice, I am exalted.' Whence this? As it is said, But the Lord of hosts is exalted through justice (Isaiah 5:16) 'and because you exalt Me through justice I too will act righteously and will cause My holiness to dwell amongst you.' Whence this? As it is said, And God the Holy One is sanctified through righteousness (Isaiah 5:16). 'And if you will respect both righteousness and justice I will immediately redeem you with a complete redemption.' Whence this? As it is said, Thus says the Lord: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is near to come, and My favor to be revealed (Isaiah 66:1). (Midrash Rabbah 5:7)

In order to bring redemption we must adhere to the law -- both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. We must find the balance between justice and righteousness.

Only someone who has a profound knowledge of law can dare overstep the letter of the law in pursuit of righteousness. Unapologetic, rigorous pursuit of truth, which will be aided from heaven, will allow us to create a society which is just and righteous. Such a society will be redeemed.