By World Mizrachi Director-General, Rabbi Doron Perez
Every great leader has been a champion of Justice.
Without exception, they have spent their lives fighting injustice and relentlessly pursuing a just cause. In essence, a sense of justice stems from the need to make right a wrong in society. It is an attempt to transform the world from the way it is, to the way it ought to be; to make the imperfect more perfect, and the less-than-ideal closer to the ideal. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, it is an attempt “to heal a fractured world” and to strive to make the world more whole. This is first and foremost the role of any leader, wherever he or she has a sphere of influence.
צדק ומשפט – Righteousness and justice – is what the Torah and he who gave the Torah – Moshe Rabbeinu – are all about.
Before anything, Moshe Rabbeinu was a fighter against injustice. It burnt within him, drove and motivated him from the very outset of his leadership career. We know so little about Moshe’s earlier years. In Chapter 2 in the Book of Shmot, where we are introduced to Moshe, we are told of only three incidents which took place in the early part of his life and leadership career and which give us a remarkably clear picture of what genuinely motivated him as a person. What follows is the brilliant insight of Professor Nechama Leibowitz in her commentary to Parashat Shmot as to the driving principle behind Moshe’s action:
“The Bible reveals to us three incidents only of Moses’s early life, three deeds that he performed when he went forth to seek out his brethren, some say at the age of 20, others (Shmot Rabba 1:27) say at the age of 40. “
Moshe intervened on three occasions to save the victim from the aggressor. Each of these represents an archetype. He first intervenes in a clash between a Jew and a non-Jew. Second, between two Jews, and the third between two non-Jews. In all three cases Moses championed the just cause.
Any further clash belongs to one of these three categories. Had we been told of the first clash, we might have doubted the unselfishness of his motives. Perhaps he had been activated by the sense of solidarity with his own people, hatred for the stronger oppressing his brethren rather than pure justice. Had we been faced with the second example we might still have had our doubts. Perhaps he was revolted by the disgrace of witnessing internal strife amongst his own folk, activated by national pride rather than the objective facts. Then came the third clash (between the shepherds and the daughters of Yitro at the well) where both parties were outsiders, neither brothers, friends nor neighbors. His sense of justice and fair play was exclusively involved. He instinctively championed the just cause.”
Moshe’s consistent passion for justice wherever he perceived an injustice, regardless of circumstance, is undeniable.
Not only was Moshe driven by this passion for justice, but this is in essence the purpose of the entire Torah. Nowhere is this clearer than in Parashat Mishpatim. It is quite remarkable that immediately after parashat Yitro, the Parasha of the giving of the Ten Commandments, we immediately engage in a lengthy and detailed account of Mishpatim – civil law. What is even more remarkable is that the very first case brought is that of the slave – a weak, powerless member of a society living on its periphery. Yet this is the very person who appears at the beginning of Torah civil law. He has personal, civil and legal rights which must be protected. The purpose of the Torah given at Sinai is to transform society through the justness of civil law. Not only do Mishpatim – civil laws – follow the giving of the Torah, but in fact they precede it as well. This point is made clear in the Midrash which highlights justice as critical to the purpose of Torah. The Midrash Rabba Mishpatim (30:3) comments at the beginning of this week’s Parasha as follows:
“ואלה המשפטים מה כתיב למעלה מן הפרשה (שמות י”ח, כ”ב) ושפטו את העם בכל עת ואמר כאן ואלה המשפטים והדברות באמצע, משל למטרונה שהיתה מהלכת הזין מכאן והזין מכאן והיא באמצע, כך התורה דינין מלפניה ודינין מאחריה והיא באמצע, וכן הוא אומר (משלי ח’, כ’) באורח צדקה אהלך, התורה אומרת באיזה נתיב אני מהלכת אהלך בדרכן של עושי צדקה, בתוך נתיבות משפט התורה באמצע ודינין מלפניה ודינין מאחריה, מלפניה שנא’ שם שם לו חוק ומשפט, ודינין מאחריה שנאמר ואלה המשפטים.”
“And these are the civil laws – why is it that before the giving of the Torah we find a discussion about judgment (Shmot 18:22) – “and the Judges judged the people at all times” (Yitro’s advice to Moshe to appoint judges in a structured justice system) and here, immediately after the giving of the Torah we have the passuk “And these are the civil laws”? This can be compared to a noblewoman who would always walk with armed guards in front of her and behind her (in order to always protect her), so too the Torah has civil laws / judgments both before it and after it. As it says in Proverbs (8:20), “In the path of righteousness I will walk” – the Torah says in which path should I walk? I will walk of the path of those who do justice / righteousness…”
The point of the Midrash is clear; it is the laws of civic and civil righteousness and justice, which both precede and follow the Torah, encompassing it and protecting it. It is justice that guides the true path for the Torah, giving it context and relevance. The Torah was not given in a societal vacuum. Its major role is to transform society through righteousness and justice.
Not only Moshe, our greatest leader, but also Avraham, the founder of our people saw as his major role the relentless pursuit of justice. Before the imminent destruction of Sodom Hashem so to speak revealed the following about Avraham.
Bereishit 18 (17-19)
“וַה’ אָמָר הַמֲכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה… כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט לְמַעַן הָבִיא ה’ עַל אַבְרָהָם אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עָלָיו”
“And the Lord said, “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing?… For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord bring upon Abraham that which He spoke concerning him.”
The way of G-d, דרך ה’, and Avraham’s legacy to his children is the commitment to the value of צדקה ומשפט, righteousness and justice.
As with the Jewish people so too with the nations of the world. At the heart of the success of the great leaders throughout history and particularly in the modern era – Washington, Lincoln, Churchill and Mandela – is an undying commitment to a just cause.
צדקה ומשפט are also the keys to the future of Jewish and world destiny. Indeed, they are the very recipe to success of the ultimate leader – the Mashiach himself. This is clearly mentioned in the words of the great prophet Isaiah (1,27) regarding the future redemption as follows:
“ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה”
“Zion will be delivered with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness.”
The essence of the Torah, the lives of all our great leaders from Avraham to Moshe to the Mashiach himself revolve around the central axis of צדקה ומשפט, righteousness and justice
Any aspiring leader must have a great intolerance for injustice and a passion to make right that which is wrong and to strive to bring the world from where it is to where it ought to be.