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Keep Israel’s Judiciary Fair and Independent: Lessons from this Week’s Torah Portion: Va’era

Rabbi Prof. David Frankel cogently links Exodus and judicial fairness together as paramount to the Jewish religion. Using prooftexts from this week’s Parashat Va’era, Leviticus and Isaiah, Frankel calls for Israel to keep its judiciary fair and independent.

This week’s parasha is Parashat Va’era and it continues the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. We read this story every year. The story of the Exodus is one of the fundamental stories of the Jewish people.

But we rarely stop to think of its significance. I would like to highlight one verse that emphasizes the lesson that we are meant to derive from the Exodus story. That verse is found in the book of Leviticus (Chapter 19:35-36), and it says

“לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֖וֶל בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט”

“You shall not do injustice in judgement,”

” בַּמִּדָּ֕ה בַּמִּשְׁקָ֖ל וּבַמְּשׂוּרָֽה׃”

“in measurements, in weights or volumes,”

“אֲנִי֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם”

“I am the Lord who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.”

The Rabbis ask the question: What is the connection between the law and the doing of justice properly of maintaining proper weights and proper judgement and honesty and the story of the Exodus?

They answer: Basically that the two are fundamentally the same!

The story of the Exodus teaches us the importance of justice and equality and righteousness. They say: (Sifra, Parashat Behar, Parashah 5):

.על תנאי כך הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם

“It is based on this fact that you would keep justice that I took you out of Egypt”

וכל הכופר במצת מידות

“Anybody who rejects the principles of the mitzvah of just measurements,”

.כופר ביציאת מצרים

“Is basically denying the (divine agency of) the Exodus.”

I believe that this lesson is of paramount importance, particularly today, in the State of Israel.

There are forces that are coalescing in our country to make pressure on the independence of the courts so that the courts can be compromised in their independence and their seeking of pure justice.

What the Torah reminds us is that the fundamental Jewish message of the Exodus is the absolute sanctity of the value of justice.

This implies that those who fight against justice in our country are not only undermining the very importance and lesson of the Exodus but they are actually desecrating the whole significance of the Jewish faith.

This is something that we must fight against continuously. We must remember the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 62:1:

.לְמַעַן צִיּוֹן לֹא אֶחֱשֶׁה וּלְמַעַן יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם לֹא אֶשְׁקוֹט עַד יֵצֵא כַנֹּגַהּ צִדְקָהּ וִישׁוּעָתָהּ כְּלַפִּיד יִבְעָר

“I will not hold my peace on behalf of Zion for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be quiet until its righteousness shines like a beam and its salvation burns like a torch.”

This is what we are called upon to do today, to represent the Jewish faith as it is meant to be: with justice at the center.




David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He has been on the faculty since 1992. He earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School,” and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.”  From 1991 to 1996, Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.

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