Justice and Compassion

justicePeople do a lot of things in the name of justice. Justice is important. The Torah teaches, “‘You shall do no injustice in judgment: you shall not be partial to the poor, nor show favoritism to the great; but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

“The story of Les Miserables is a story of injustices being overcome, and wrongs being made right. The Holy Scriptures teach the importance of pursuing justice, impartially, for the poor as well as the rich. Even our court system has the symbol of “Justice” blindfolded, to indicate that true justice is impartial. Seeking justice is an admirable pursuit.

That being said, it is good to recognize that there is a fine line between Justice and Judgment. In the name of justice, people judge others, and harm others. The problem with judging others, is that those doing the judging make themselves the judge and jury. Yeshua taught, “Judge not, lest you yourselves be judged. “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

It is one thing to seek justice, and another to seek retribution and judgment. Judgment is to be reserved for God. This is why Yeshua said you should turn the other cheek. It doesn’t mean we should become the world’s doormats, it means we trust God to make wrongs right rather than take matters into our own hands.

Even in the case of the woman caught in adultery, her accusers had a good case. She was caught in the act of adultery. The Torah said she should be stoned. Regarding justice, this was not a victim-less crime. Consider her husband. Yeshua didn’t address the adultery. He didn’t sweep it under the carpet as if it didn’t matter. Under the Torah, this was a capital crime. Yeshua focused not on the sin, and not on the sinner, but on the accusers. He looked at these seekers of justice and said, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” One by one, we are told, they dropped their stones and left. The point was not that adultery was acceptable, or that the woman was not guilty, or that her sin didn’t matter. The point was that we are not the ones who are to be the judges. God is the judge.

I admit that its impossible to go through life and not make judgments. We make judgement calls every day regarding people and situations. We need to make them because life calls upon us to make decisions regarding people and situations that will help govern our actions. There is a line between making a decision about how I will make personal choices and becoming a pursuer of those whom I believe are guilty. The Torah demanded at least two or three witnesses before judgment could be meted out because a person who feels wronged can not truly be impartial in judgment.

The fact of our ability to be at best, imperfect meters of justice is seen in the Torah itself. Cities of refuge were designated for people who were guilty by circumstance, who committed crimes by accident and not pre-meditation or volition. In the name of justice, they could have rightly been put to death, even though the crime might have happened unintentionally. They were permitted to flee to a city of refuge where they would live until the death of the High Priest, whose death served as an atonement for him. These cities were not formed to evade justice, but recognized that blind justice may be technically right and still be wrong. That’s why God alone is the true Judge.

The interesting thing about Les Miserables, is that it is a story of gross life changing injustice, pursuit by law, and radical attempts to restore justice. Against this backdrop is the kindness of one man who changes the life of another, who brings life altering kindness and grace to others, and finds in the end that it is a spiritual revolution that brings what world[y attempts at seeking justice fall far short of, and by comparison are impotent and ineffective. In the end, the world goes on, for good or for bad. Spiritual reality comes about by spiritual means. Using might and muscle may bring about another crusade, but it will never be able to bring about the spiritual reality we seek.


4 thoughts on “Justice and Compassion

  1. Wow, aren’t you lucky, Rabbi? You can hardly post a word, but I have to have something to say about it.

    In the case of Les Miserables, we should not forget that, no matter how hungry he or his family might have been, he did commit a crime by stealing the bread. It was by his own hand that he was left open to judgement.

    Yet, a far greater crime was committed by those who sought to make him pay for his crime. Had that society been at all in tune with the teachings of Messiah, he would have been brought before a judge who, finding only one witness, would then have had to release him. Even if there had been a whole lineup of witnesses, this was a time for the “system” to mete out mercy rather than punishment. He could have been found guilty, and sentenced to, say, one day on the chain gang, or whatever.

    This whole thing is a testimony against the evil nature of man, who will invariably gang up on the weak or the minority. There was no Yeshua there to ask the crowds who among them had never stolen anything. It seems to me almost that they persecuted him because he was there. In any event, this story is a brutally realistic testimony to the evil nature of man and, therefore, society. I find it frightening to think how many times this sort of mob rule has taken hold, the Holocaust as a prime example.


    • It seems to me that to see Les Miserables as wholly a “testimony against the evil nature of man” is to miss the magnificent story of grace through radical, life-changing, saving forgiveness; as Rabbi Dr. Michael puts it: the “spiritual revolution” aspect of the story. To serve decades of incarceration for stealing bread for your children is unjust. As there is no society, yet, that is in tune with the teachings of Messiah, man’s inhumanity to man will ever darken the day, the only light to be found in the Light that was found by the character Jean Valjean as inspired by the radical act of compassionate forgiveness of the good priest.

  2. Another way to look at it, when our Master stopped the mob from stoning the woman, He was really defending her right to “due process of law” or her right to come before an impartial tribunal, and there face her accusers and defend herself. Perhaps when Yeshua asked the crowd: who among you who has no sin, cast the first stone, He was really saying to the crowd or rather to the instigators of the crowd, that:

    a) aren’t you sinning by bringing the woman to me to accuse her, and not filing the proper charges against her in the proper courts. In other words, why do you resort to a mob rule, and trial by mob and publicity when you have properly functioning courts, i.e., the Sanhedrin. The crowd left one by one lest they themselves be charged before the courts for perverting justice;

    b) aren’t your accusations in reality false, for where is her paramour, if in truth she was caught in the very act of adultery. In other words, your accusation seems fabricated as it lacks this very important evidence – the 2nd party to the crime.

    In other words, this may not really be a story about grace and forgiveness. Rather, it may be an exposition on the commandment not to “bear false witness against another,” and the requirement for societies to have a properly functioning “justice system” in order for this commandment to be fulfilled and worked out. Shalom!

  3. “Using might and muscle may bring about another crusade, but it will never be able to bring about the spiritual reality we seek.” Amen, Dr. Schiffman, amen!

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