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Pursue Righteousness Righteously

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Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:20

The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means "judges," from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12-52:12.

One of the first verses in this week's reading instructs us to: "Follow justice and justice alone." Translated literally from the original Hebrew, the verse reads, "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue." In either case, the repetition of a single word is evident. Knowing that the Torah doesn't use any word superfluously, we must ask why Scripture chose to repeat a word here.

One answer suggested by the rabbis is that righteousness and justice for that matter must be pursued righteously. But how might someone pursue righteousness un-righteously?

Imagine that a person decides to wake up extra early in order to have time to commune with God. A righteous pursuit indeed! However, in order to do so, the person sets an alarm that awakens the entire family. Now he or she has stolen sleep from his or her spouse and children. That is not righteous at all. The person would have to find a more suitable way to pursue righteousness without harming others.

In another scenario, we can imagine the traditional "steal from the rich to give to the poor" logic. Certainly, it is just to give money to the poor. It may even be that the rich have acquired their wealth unjustly. However, our verse teaches that stealing from anyone is not justified, even if the goal is one with justice in mind. Again, we are required to pursue a just and righteous way to give to the poor.

In God's world, the ends do not justify the means; rather the means have to be in sync with the end goal.

A story from the 18th century also helps illustrate our point. A prominent rabbi wanted to wake up unusually early the following morning in order to be able to do an extraordinary, but anonymous, act of kindness. To that end, he had asked his wife to serve dinner early that evening so that he could retire to bed earlier. That night, not only was dinner not early, it was very late, and the rabbi was not able to wake up in time to do what he had intended. He thought to himself, "I would be justified in getting angry at my wife. However, why should I get angry because my wife prevented me from serving God? It's God's will for me not to get angry in the first place!"

Let's pursue both righteousness and justice this week, making sure that we do so in a way that also brings glory to God's name. Let's take the time to check our methods at attaining our goals and ensure that they are in line with our ultimate goal of serving God in the greatest and most righteous way possible.

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