Justice and Trees

Moshe Kempinski

The beginning verses of the Torah portion of Shoftim become the clarion call for true justice amidst the people of Israel.” 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. “ Deuteronomy 16:19)

The torah declares that it is only such an honest and true system of justice can insure the survival of this special people in their special land .

“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land HaShem your G-d is giving you “ (ibid 20)

Yet immediately after these dramatic words we read of the prohibitions of idolatry. Specifically we read of the prohibition of planting an Ashera tree near the altar. “ 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. ( ibid 21)

What is the basis of this prohibition and what is the reason for its positioning right after the commandments regarding the courts of law?

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk’ the author of the book “Meshech Chochhma “ provides an interesting insight regarding this seemingly unusual juxtaposition. He explains that when one contemplates the whole area of temple sacrifice, one can easily fall into the trap of thinking that G-d actually needs those sacrifices. One might assume that without receiving these sacrifices, divine forgiveness is impossible. Yet Rav Meir Simcha declares that that is an impossibility. There can be nothing that the Infinite needs to receive from His finite creations. As we read in the book of Hoshea;” For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”( Hoshea 6:6)

Furthermore we read in King David’s psalms;
O Lord, You shall open my lips, and my mouth will recite Your praise. For You do not wish a sacrifice, or I should give it; You do not desire a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; O God, You will not despise a broken and crushed heart.( psalm 51:17-19)

HaShem does not need our sacrifices. He does not need , them but we do. We need to engage in some tangible ritual that describes the spiritual changes that are hopefully occurring in our hearts. This is the reason that the altar, upon which the sacrifices are offered, must be built of stones that are inanimate. We are not to build the altar from vegetation or wood that is both alive and organic. An inanimate object does not “need” anything to keep it sustained. Organic material ,on the other hand ,are in need of sustenance and care. That is the reason the ashera tree , or any tree for that matter cannot be planted by the altar .The stone altar then becomes a clear declaration that HaShem to Whom the sacrifices are being offered to, is not dependant on those sacrifices. That is the essential theological difference between idolatry and true faith.

This then also explains the reason for describing this prohibition of the ashera tree so close to the discussion of courts of law. The judges who are selected must also be in a position in which they have no need of the good wishes or gifts of the people they are meant to judge. They must also become emptied of their own personal political view and ideological perspective.

Regrettably that is not yet the reality of Israel’s present Judicial establishment

Recently National Union Chairman MK Yaakov Katz stated his view that the reason that the terrorist who went on a driving and knifing spree in Tel Aviv this week, was left unscathed and alive is due to the fact that the police and the soldiers were afraid to act quickly. “The fear of Supreme Court President Beinisch has fallen upon the soldiers and policemen of Israel.” He said,”The behavior of the State Attorney’s Office and the legal system lately against security guards, policemen, soldiers and officers who staunchly defended the Nation of Israel – and were rewarded by being sent to jail – weakens the security forces,”

Similarly, the previous Supreme court President Aharon Barak has declared “A democracy must fight terror with one hand tied behind its back.” Although such a statement is puffed up with the airs of political correctness and emits a pleasant aroma, it is not accurate. Democracy is based on majority rule aligned with protection for minority rights. Yet the minority, especially a violent one does not have the right to infringe on the lives and well-being of the majority.

May we merit in our days to see a judicial system that is not colored by its political agenda and is freed of any encumberments and irrelevant loyalties. May we see the fulfillment of Hashem’s directive “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.( ibid 19)

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