Hi… It’s me. Benny.
“Shoftim ViShotrim… Judges and police officers shall you appoint in all your gates in the land which HaShem will be giving you,” Moshe commanded his people.
In the desert, where all the Jews were situated in one place, there was one central judicial system. Judges were appointed to serve every 10 Jews, higher judges served every 100 Jews, and so on. This system was suggested by Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, and it worked. Now that Bnei Yisrael would be entering the Land of Israel and living all over the land, it was time for a new plan. Every town would have its own Beis Din (court of law), made up of Shoftim (judges) who were knowledgeable, trustworthy, and most importantly, of good moral character.
“Judges!” Moshe exclaimed. “Never ever take a bribe! A bribe, regardless of the amount of money, will blind the judgement of even the wisest of judges!”
Indeed, any form of bribery is forbidden.
“Good morning Mr. Honorable Judge. What a nice day it is for my appearance in your lovely courtroom. Hold it! Your hat has a smudge on it. Here, I have a hat brush in my back pocket. Let me clean it for you.”
“Out of the question! That’s called Shochad!”
“Shochad… what’s that?”
“It means bribery in Hebrew… You’re being extra nice to me in order to influence my judgement!”
Once a verdict is issued:
“And the verdict is… Mr. Gibmer Geltstein must pay his partner Mr. Oliver Oyvey the money he cheated him. That’s a total of $5,142.24.”
If Mr. Geltstein decides not to listen to the judge and protests,
“That is not fair. I won’t pay Ruby even one penny!”
…then it’s up to the Shotrim to carry out the decisions of the judges.
Moshe sums it all up in one sentence, “Tsedek, Tsedek Tirdof! – “Justice, justice shall you pursue!”
Our Parsha begins with the words, “Judges and police officers shall you appoint in all your gates.”
Huh? Why are the judges in the gates? Why can’t they come into the courtroom?
The answer is that in the olden days the gate WAS the courtroom. If two people had a disagreement, all they needed to do was stroll down to the city gates, where the judges would be waiting for them.
Now, how’s that for an “open door policy?”
“Judges and police officers shall you appoint in all your gates,” declares Moshe.
Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz (1555-1630), a.k.a. the Shelah (short for Sh’nei L’uchos H’abris, the name of the famous book he wrote) suggests that on a deeper level, the “gates” refer to the “gates” of the human body: our two eyes, two ears, and the mouth. The Torah is telling us that we must act as judges, carefully deciding what we allow to enter through these “gates.”
We should be careful about what we look at; what we hear; and last but not least, what food goes into our mouths.
“Tsedek, Tsedek Tirdof!” – “Justice, justice you shall pursue!”
Why is “justice” repeated twice?
Robin Hood is the answer. Huh?! Robin who? Well, according to English legend, Mr. Hood was a heroic outlaw who would rob from the rich and give to the poor. No doubt about it, Robin Hood had good intentions (that rhymes). But stealing – even with good intentions like giving to others – is never allowed.
That’s the hidden meaning of Tsedek Tsedek Tirdof. Even when you are pursuing justice, make sure that everything you do along the way is perfectly just.