Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃

Justice justice you shall pursue, so that you will live and inherit the land that Hashem your G-d gives to you.

Devarim 16:20

Chazal are understandably bothered by the doubling of “tzedeq tzedeq — justice justice”. What does the repetition add?

Targum Unqelus translates the opening phrase in a manner that doesn’t address our question, but opens a different one: What is tzedeq, which we translated “justice”? He writes, “קֻשְׁטָא קֻשְׁטָא תְּהֵי רָדִיף — truth, truth, you shall pursue.” To Unqelus, the court’s job is to adjudicate by finding the truth.

However, Toragum Yonasan offers a different translation of the phrase, “דִּין קְשׁוֹט וְדִין שְׁלַם בִּקְשׁוֹט תְּהֵי רָדִיף — a justice of truth and a justice of peaceful truth you should pursue.” The first tzedeq refers to finding truth, but the second one asks us to do something much harder — to find a justice that advances both truth and peace.

Truth and peace often conflict, as anyone who has struggled with saying an unwanted truth tactfully can attest. In halakhah, the pursuit of peace can justify a misleading presentation of the truth (shinui es ha’ames) but not outright lying. (See more in the post “Ways of Peace“.)

The Aderet Eliyahu comments similarly. The reason for the two occurance of the word tzedeq is “one is for din — law, and one is for pesharah — compromise.” Beis din is supposed to try to get the disputants agree to compromise, and only if they can’t, the apply the strict. law. Presumably that is to preserve the higher priority, shalom, and if that is impossible, they seek the other value, truth. If so, then this interpretation is following Targum Yonasan.

Another thing we found, in the essay Ge’ulah“, about the interplay between emes and shalom is that the pursuit of the resolution between them is an underlying theme in human history.

R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [– HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, ” חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶ֥ת נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ, צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ׃ — Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace kissed each other.” [Tehillim 85:11] 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 Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

History as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history.

Which might explain the third word in the expression. Hashem doesn’t directly ask the court to used justice to achieve truth and peace. Rather “צדק צדק תרדוף — justice justice you shall pursue.” The synthesis of emes and shalom is an ideal to strive for, not necessarily something we can yet achieve.

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