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Lessons Learned from Sedek, Sedek Tirdof

In this week’s parasha, Parashat Shoftim, the Torah instructs the dayyanim, religious judges, to judge properly. "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just" (Devarim 16:19).

The Torah teaches that the dayyanim must not judge unfairly, and then commands that they should not take bribes. What does the Torah mean to add by teaching that in addition to not judging unfairly, the dayyanim must not take bribes?

Rashi explains that one may not take a bribe "even to judge righteously." Rashi may mean to say that although the dayyan intends to rule fairly, he must not receive payment to issue that correct ruling. Alternatively, he may mean that a dayyan should not take money from someone who might be at a disadvantage in order to issue the fair and proper ruling, in his favor.

The verse concludes, "sedek sedek tirdof leman tihyeh" (justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live). Why does the verse repeat the word sedek?

Rashi cites the gemara (Sanhedrin 32a) which explains that one must go to the most qualified judges- "sedek sedek" - the best of the best. In addition to Rashi’s interpretation, we will offer a number of enlightening, and edifying explanations.

Some suggest the following idea, based upon an interesting passage from the gemara. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 4b) says: One who says this coin is for sedaka so that my child will live, or that I shall merit the world to come, behold, he is a sadik gamur (completely righteous)." Tosafot ask, isn’t the highest level of religiosity, as we see from the Mishna in Pirke Avot (1:3) to serve God without expecting reward? Tosafot explains that in this case, even if the child dies, he did not regret his pledge. We would like to offer another explanation. One should always strive not to embarrass the recipient of sedaka. If a person would like to give a poor person money- he should find a way to give him money without embarrassing him. In this case, the person gave sedaka to the poor person under the pretense that he gave sedaka for his sick child. The Talmud says that in this case, the person is a sadik, as his true intention is to give the poor person sedaka without embarrassing him.

The Hida suggests another explanation. He explains that when the Talmud says that one should not perform a misva to receive a reward, it refers to misvot that he is obligated to perform. If, however, he performs misvot which he is not obligated to perform, "lifnim meshurat hadin," he may do these misvot in order to receive reward. Based upon this, the Hida explains that the Talmud here refers to a person who already fulfilled the misva of sedaka, and he adds another coin, "sela zu," with the intention that his son should live. In other words, in this case he did an extra misva, and not one which he was already commanded to perform. He further explains that the mishna refers to this very case: sedek sedek tirdof leman tihyeh- your may give sedaka twice, sedek sedek, in order that you may live.

We can also explain this verse in the tradition of the mussar. Rabbinic literature discusses the damage which may come from excessive eating. Indeed, the first sin in history, the sin of the ets hadaat, came from the desire to eat. Similarly, the rabbis teach that the Jews deserved to be punished because they benefited from the meal of Ahashverosh. Even the ben sorer umoreh is accused of eating gluttonously. We have to be very careful to eat in a proper manner, kosher, and in measure. The verse says, "zeh hashulhan lifnei Hashem." Today obesity is the greatest disease in America. The rabbis say that a person who wishes to receive olam haba should control his desire. Interestingly, the gematria of shulhan equals sedek sedek. The verse teaches- sedek sedek- if one breaks the shulhan, the table, in half, and control one’s desires, "leman tihyeh" - then he will live.

We can suggest one final interpretation. At times, a person might believe that in pursuit of justice - the ends justify the means. Judaism believes that the means must also be fair and honest. The verse may be teaching, by emphasizing the word "sedek", that justice must be achieved in legal and legitimate ways.

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