After the Torah details the obligation to appoint judges and officers to administrate justice in all the cities throughout the land, exhorting these officials to act honestly and correctly, it concludes with a general directive to the populace at large.
צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אשר ד' אלקיך נֹתֵן לך (דברים טז כ), Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue so that you will live and possess the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.
It would seem that the objective here is not simply to achieve a just outcome but more so to pursue it. The double emphasis seemingly implies a constant and never-ending quest. The description of how in the merit of this pursuit Hashem ‘gives you’ the land, in the present tense, further emphasizes the constancy of this endeavor.
In its simplest application the verse is addressing a situation where one is involved in a monetary dispute and is being encouraged to seek out a ‘good court’ to assure accurate justice will be achieved.(רש"י)
But that is only occasional, when the circumstance arises. In what way are we to implement on a constant basis this pursuit of righteousness?
The very first pursuer of righteousness was no doubt Avraham Avinu. When discovering that his nephew, Lot, is abducted by the axis of four kings in the War of the Kings, Avraham seeking to rectify this injustice arms his disciples and, וירדף עד דן (בראשית יד יד), pursues them until Dan. The next verse depicts how he reaches up to them, ויכם וירדפם עד חובה, and struck them, and he pursued them till Chovah. Remarkably in this very first instance in Torah of the use of the root ר-ד-ף, pursue, it is utilized in the context of implementing that which is right and just.
The Midrash Rabba (מג יד טו), observes that the verse strangely describes first his smiting them and only afterwards tells how Avraham pursued them. Can a dead man be chased? The Midrash goes on to quote the verse in Yeshayahu that describes, מי העיר ממזרח צדק יקראהו לרגלו (מא ב), Who aroused from the East, [the one] whom righteousness accompanied, referring to Hashem having intervened even prior to Avraham having caught up with them, by decimating them.
But the question still begs, how can one chase a dormant body?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that it is never just about bringing out justice and peace alone. When the goal is simply to eradicate injustice, then the pursuit is merely an expedient towards the implementation of justice. The pursuit though continues beyond the immediate correction of corruptness. We are to always be seeking to discover the presence of צדק, that Whom is ‘Just’, the very Divine Presence, in all our endeavors. Well after the enemy has fallen Avraham continues to carry the banner declaring the Hand of G-d that is present in every circumstance and endeavor, always seeking to fathom that reality on a deeper and more profound level.
In life we often face situations that challenge our faith. Life at times seems so unfair. We direct blame in all directions attempting to make sense of a world that often doesn’t seem fair. It may be when we are faced with a dispute with our fellow man, feeling a sense of being taken advantage of, and try to make sense and gain clarity by reaching out to judges who are wise in the ways of Torah who can mediate, helping us gain clarity and calm. But more importantly we must strive to accept, especially when we have no legal recourse, when facing the dilemmas of life alone, to realize as I once heard from a very wise man, that, “Life is not necessarily fair but it is always just!”
The letters in the word רדף, to chase, are also the letters in the word פָרַד, to separate. One can choose to wallow despairingly in a delusional fragmented world, where there is no apparent rhyme or reason, only resentment, or one can choose to discover all that is ‘just’ in the world, accepting Hashem’s presence in every facet of life.
Avraham stops his quest at Dan, alternately known as Chovah. We are taught that Avraham was stopped in his tracks when he came to the region where he prophetically envisioned the wicked Yerovam who would secede from the dominion of the House of David, establishing his own dynasty as well as independent places of worship, one in the region of Dan, that housed golden calves, reminiscent of the original one that was worshipped at Mount Sinai. These ten tribes were won over by Yerovam as a result of their being disgruntled with Rechovam, the son and successor of Shlomo, whom they felt imposed too many tax burdens upon them.
Yerovam, a descendant of Yosef, played on old resentments between the tribes, as well as on the peeves he knew the misguided tribes sensed toward Rechovam, allowing a terrible פירוד, distance, to fester in severing the nation from each other and eventually from Hashem. Rather that choosing to be רודף, run after, צדק, Hashem who is just, he opted for פירוד, division.
This failing among his descendants stifled Avraham’s quest to promote the justness of Hashem.
It has been revealed that when the Torah encourages us to seek righteousness, למען תחיה, so that ‘you will live’, it is alluding to the entirety of our relationship with Hashem.
למען תחיה is numerically equivalent to 613, the entire body of Torah. This is not merely a reward, but the essence of what our lives are all about. If we accept that even when life seems unfair it is necessarily just, we are assured a life of vitality and bountiful blessings from Hashem.
May we each, in this propitious month of Elul, transform our attitudes of dissatisfaction and distance into a new awareness of His presence in every moment of our lives, and run eagerly towards His embrace.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן