Parshat Shoftim: Goodness as justice

We have said that the purpose of justice is to establish the truth in order to make goodness prevail in humankind. Hence all judgments aim to denounce and condemn falsehood and wickedness as the opposite of truth and goodness.

Thus we understand that judgment is righteousness as the ethical frame of goodness. In this context our judgment must be based on goodness as the right approach to living in this world. This is the premise to have a righteous (good) judgment.

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.” (Deuteronomy 16:18)

The “cities” that God gave us in the Promised Land represent the principles and values in which we are destined to dwell, for these determine the essence of the Jewish identity. These are also the references God gives us to approach every aspect and expression of life in order to have a proper judgment, for all of them are inherent in the goodness He wants us to possess, enjoy and settle in. In this awareness we assimilate that anything different than the ways and attributes of goodness corrupts our true essence.

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God is giving you.” (16:19-20)

We spoil goodness when we allow the negative traits and trends of ego’s fantasies and illusions to conduct our thoughts, emotions, feelings, speech and actions. These traits and trends are the negative references that pervert our judgment by pursuing personal gain at the expense or detriment of others.

This predicament is the negation of goodness as the basis of all “win-win” situations, for in goodness we all win. This is the principle of possessing and living goodness as the land God has given us. Not coincidentally, the Torah juxtaposes these admonitions to more repeated warnings against idol worship.

“You shall not plant for yourself an asherah, [or] any tree near the altar of the Lord, your God, which you shall make for yourself. And you shall not set up for yourself a monument, which the Lord, your God hates.” (16:21-22)

These warnings are expanded and reiterated in the following verses and chapters, for idol worship (explained as personal negative choices that we make for ourselves) is the ultimate negation and rejection of God as the ruling principle of His creation. The reiteration of “for yourself” means that we are the ones who create addictions, attachments and obsessions, derived from our own materialistic fantasies and illusions as the monuments and altars to which we bow and serve.

“Be wholehearted with the Lord, your God.” (18:13)

Once we fully realize that goodness is the common bond with our Creator, we also become aware that it encompasses our integrity, wholeness, completion and plenitude, as our cause, reason, purpose and destiny in this world.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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