According to the old joke one Jew brags to a friend, “My Rabbi is so brilliant that he can speak for an hour on any topic.”
And the friend responds, “And my Rabbi is so brilliant that he can speak for 2 hours on no topic."
Traditionally we Rabbis are known for talking a lot and some would say too much. What is interesting, is that while Rabbis are known for being wordy, the Torah itself is considered to be a text that never uses a word superfluously. It is for this reason, that in this week’s Torah portion when we read the word justice repeated, it is all the more striking.
In this week’s Torah portion, we’re told to appoint judges and officers in all of our communities, we are then told tzedek tzedek tirdof - justice, justice, shall you pursue. It’s interesting to think about the way that one might go about pursuing justice as though chasing after something elusive. But what is striking is the fact that the Torah says tzedek tzedek - justice, justice. Many commentators have tried to understand why this word is repeated, some have talked about 2 types of justice that could be pursued, others have suggested that it refers to 2 ways of applying justice.
For me, in the first instance, I think that the repetition of tzedek is a reminder that we must pursue justice for ourselves, but we must also pursue justice for others. Justice cannot exist in isolation, it has to be justice for us and for other people. But the other thing that the text does is that it insures that we really pay attention to those 2 words: tzedek tzedek. In Hebrew, the word tzedek shares its meaning with the word tzedakah which we generally translate today to mean charitable or good deeds. In this way, the Torah may be expanded to saying that we must pursue good deeds and charitable actions, acts of tzedakah in the world. But more than this, in the repetition of the word, I think it’s telling us that we need to help others to also pursue justice.
In this way, as we pursue justice - tzedek, we must also help others to join us in our pursuit. On Tuesday evening we began the month of Elul, which is a month of preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a month of spiritual reflection. This year, we’re taking part in the Elul Mitzvah Challenge, where we’re asking people to do a Mitzvah in terms of a good deed, record themselves doing it and then challenge others to also do a Mitzvah themselves www.facebook.com/elulmitzvahchallenge.
In this way, we’re pursuing Mitzvot in the month of Elul and hoping that we can really help mitzvot to go viral. What a great way this could be for us as a community together to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and what a great way for us as a community to fulfill the words of this weeks Torah portion: tzedek tzedek tirdof - justice, justice, shall you pursue it.