If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us. -Francis Bacon
There is an oft-repeated dictum of the rabbis that the world is sustained by three things: Justice, Truth and Peace. (Pirkei Avot 1:18). Meaning, the institution of Justice, along with its companions Truth and Peace are three pillars that sustain the world. Harm one of the pillars, one of these foundations, and you threaten the very existence of the universe.
The Sfat Emet in 5634 (1874) takes this statement literally based on the verse “You shall not wrest (“thateh” in Hebrew) judgment.” (Deuteronomy 16:19). The literal word in Hebrew “thateh” can be understood to also mean to lean or to push in a way that will make something fall. Our unjust actions carry the danger of potentially toppling down the entire edifice of our world.
What this means, as it relates to Justice, is that if we don’t make sure that Justice is done, or if we are involved in an injustice, somehow we are eroding the basic building blocks of civilization. Fair play breaks down. Trust disappears. All human cooperation would come to a standstill, or be enmeshed in so many legal strictures as to make working together with anyone else almost impossible. That is how important the aspect of Justice is in our lives. Without a basic and sustained system of justice in society, it is very difficult to have functional and productive lives. The world would descend into anarchy.
The Sfat Emet concludes that just the act of veering from the laws of God, from what He determined is just, puts not only us, our families and our communities in danger — but it also threatens the entire world.
The converse is even truer. When we uphold justice, when we follow and strengthen God’s laws, we support, not only our world, but the entire universe.
May we merit to always be on the side of Justice, Truth and Peace.
To my nephew Saadya Epstein on being sworn in to the Armored Corps of the IDF.