Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Justice, Justice (Shoftim)

The Torah Text

Parashat Shoftim begins with an exhortation to appoint judges and to practice fairness and impartiality. Then the text reads, “Justice, justice you shall pursue…” Many commentators wonder at the meaning of the repetition.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

צדק צדק. עם בעלי הריב ידבר וטעם שני פעמים לדבר צדק שירויח בו או יפסיד או פעם אחר פעם כל ימי היותך או לחזוק

Deuteronomy 16:20 JUSTICE, JUSTICE. Moses speaks to the disputants. Moses repeats the word justice to indicate that one should pursue justice whether one gains or loses. Or the word is repeated to indicate that one should pursue justice as long as one exists; or the word is repeated for emphasis. (Translation Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Ibn Ezra offers three understandings of the repetition. As a student of Torah sensitive to its literary qualities, he suggests that it is simply an emphasis to get the point across. But his other two opinions are quite profound.

First, one should pursue justice even if the end result means you lose out in some way. What a charge to those of us with various privileges in life! We should seek justice even if a just society means we will lose some level of privilege and wealth. That poses a moral challenge that is hard to live up to but worthy to grapple with.

Second, Ibn Ezra suggests that justice isn’t a one-time event. Over the course of a lifetime, one will need to pursue it again and again. Justice isn’t just a goal, but a practice.

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.