Parshas Shoftim begins with the Jewish nation's obligation to appoint judges and officers, establishing requirements for the governance of the Jewish polity.
The Torah presents the overall requirement to execute true justice. Not only shall you "not pervert justice, show favoritism and take bribes," but, in a positive vein, "Justice, justice shall you pursue."
Why is the word tzedek, justice, repeated in this refrain? Rashi writes that this repetition instructs us to "seek after the most competent court." In other words, justice is a qualitative value. Not only must we seek a just and honest verdict, but we also must be sure that the court's deliberations are of the highest standards. The results must be just, and the process producing those results must be just, too.
As Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotsk sums up, the doubling of tzedek teaches that both means and ends must be honest and fair.
In this spirit we can understand why bribery is forbidden even if its purpose is to see that justice be done. For even if a bribe does not pervert the verdict, it clearly perverts and invalidates the process.
Included in this theme of government is the mitzvah of appointing a king. The Torah states, "When you say, 'I want to appoint a king over myself as is the custom of the nations around me,' you shall indeed designate a king whom G-d will choose."
There are many ambiguities here. Is the Torah making kingship obligatory or optional? The Rambam adopts the position that it is obligatory to appoint a king. But if it is obligatory why does it have to await "when you will say I want to appoint a king"?
The Netziv in his Ha'ameik Davar explains: "The governance of the state turns upon whether it is to be a monarchy or a state governed by the consent of the nation and her elected representatives.... This matter cannot be determined by the force of a positive commandment."
Rather, the Netziv insists, the designation of a king depends upon the consent of the nation and the nature of government generally. This explains why three hundred years pass after the death of Yehoshua before a king is appointed over Israel.
The requirement for the consent of the governed should not be viewed as disconnected from the initial issues dealt with in our parshah. On the contrary, this demonstrates the Torahs insistence upon both lawful process and result, both means and end.
"Justice, justice shall you pursue" is both a juridical requirement in the Jewish polity and an administrative requirement.
The Jewish state is not to be built upon force but rather on lawful consent. What this means for us is that Jewish communal conduct must be imbued with a sensibility that respects civilized process, values persons, and contends appropriately with the autonomy of every Jew.
This path assures that not only are our goals from the Torah, but even our processes shed luster upon the Torah.
Rabbi Melvin GranatsteinRabbi Granatstein is the rabbi of Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood, Ohio.
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