Does the end justify the means?

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion has always been the part of Chumash that I enjoy from the literary point of view. Anton Chekhov famously said that the brevity is the talent’s sibling. The Torah skilfully navigates between the brevity and the elaborate descriptions but here, in the place where the essential rules are given, the wordiness is inappropriate.

The first three terse lines inform us about everything we need to know to build a just society. We need to appoint the incorrupbtible officials, the judgement should not be delivered not single-handedly and our justices should be impartial.

The partiality can take many forms and disguises based on our personal preferences, our gender, age, ethnic or religious origin. The Torah text says, “Do not recognize the faces”, Everyone should be equal before the court, as Rashi explains, “Even during the statement of pleas by the litigants. This is an admonition addressed to the judge, that he should not be lenient with one litigant and harsh with the other, for example ordering one to stand while allowing the other to sit”.

This is a truly amazing passage since one can hardly imagine that such a delicate treatment of human emotions could even exist in Rashi’s times.

At the end of this three-line passage, the word ‘justice” is repeated twice. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa elaborates on that repetition, “Why does the verse repeat itself? Is there a just justice and an unjust justice? Indeed there is. The Torah is telling us to be just also in the pursuit of justice—both the end and how it is obtained must be just”.

So, the end does not justify the means. The justice obtained unjustly is no justice at all, regardless of the litany of excuses and explanations we might bring forward to justify our actions.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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