“Justice, justice you must pursue”. This is one of the first mitzvoth in our Parasah. A short and powerful sentence, clear words, things are pretty understood: all what you have to do is justice; never capitulate – you must pursue it.
Is it so clear, indeed?
What justice really is?
And why pursue it and not, let’s say, search for it? (some translations of the Bible render “follow”, but this is not the exact sense of the original Hebrew “tirdof”, which means pursue or chase).
Justice? Let’s say it is doing what is good and right, giving to each one what each one deserves, acting with truth and for the sake of truth. And doing it according to the principles of equality.
All this is true. But what is right for you, is it necessarily right for me? What is good for me, is it so for you? If you deserve something, maybe has it been taken from somebody else? And what about equality? Is it that we both are to have the same thing? What if you worked hard and I did nothing? Maybe I did nothing because I couldn’t? Maybe you haven’t worked as hard as you may have done? And if we both get it, does it mean that a third one, or a forth one will get it, too? And if it si not possible for everybody to get it? Then nobody gets anything of it, following a strict equal way? Does the good prevail here?
The definition of what is good and right, of what each one deserves, of truth and equality is different for each person. If the definition is to be general and not individual, then the individual will feel that this is not justice. He or she may take it as a forced justice, but not as a just justice.
It is then very difficult to get justice.
A clear example of this is the “Judgment of Solomon”, where two women claim a baby to belong to each one of them. The King decides to split the baby in two, each woman receiving half of the child. One of them begs the King not to kill the child and she gives up her rights for the sake of the other one. The other woman says: “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it!” King Solomon declares finally the merciful woman, who didn’t want the baby to be killed, to be the real mother and gave her the child (see Kings I 3:23-27).
Where is the justice here? One woman considers that dividing equally is justice – everybody loses, but there is equality. The other woman considers justice giving up the rights for the sake of the baby’s life – she does good to the other one, but no good to herself. The King considers justice to give to the one who gave up – it is not equality, but it is the right thing to do.
For us it is completely clear that justice was made in this case. As for the other woman, however, she considers it to be a great injustice, since she was ready to give up the baby on the condition that the other one gives up, too (it may had been given in adoption, instead of being killed, for example).
So, this justice is not perfect. It is good, but it is neither perfect, not complete.
There’s no possibility of arriving to a complete justice. Even if we hypothetically do arrive to it, it will not last. It will solve one problem, but soon another injustice will come up in another area, another place, another situation.
Should we then desist and stop our efforts for arriving to justice?
God gives us as a mitzvah: “You must pursue it”. Pursue justice because it evades you, because it never stays with you. At the very moment you find it, it evades you and you must search for it again. Pursue it! Never capitulate!
Justice must be an ideal in your society. The eternal quest for it, this pursuit, this not being satisfied by having found it once, this not stopping and declaring “I’ve done justice, I’ve already done what I had to do”, this is what allows you to live and to inherit the land: “Justice, justice you must pursue; so that you will live and inherit the land the Lord your God is giving you”. (Deut. 16:20)
There’s no society that is just. There is a society that tends to justice and checks itself permanently so as to regain the justice that has evaded it.
A society that defines itself as being just isn’t anything else but pretentious and it becomes at that very moment a society of injustice. A society that considers itself as the only one which really knows what justice is and that blames other societies of being unjust, isn’t but getting away from what is good, right and correct.
Let’s continue discovering justice at every moment, because even if “it is not your responsibility to finish the work, you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirke Avot 2:16).