Justice and Mercy

Torah Portion: D’Varim (Deut.) 1:1-3:22

Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 1:1-27


Today we begin the final book of Torah, Deuteronomy. The Hebrew name for this book is D’Varim. D’Varim means words and also things. As we go through this final book keep this double meaning in mind. 


Also tonight as the Shabbat ends the solemn day of Tishah B’av begins.  This day commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple. Both were destroyed on the same day. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple, the one used by Yeshua and His disciples, was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans.



The destruction of both Temples were said to have occurred on Tishah B’av. Also, Queen Isabella of Spain issued the command in 1492, that all Jews were to be expelled on this day as well. The Nazis’ “Final Solution” was approved on this day in 1941. Because of these tragedies the day is marked by reading the book of Lamentations while sitting on the floor of the synagogue.


Tisha B’av always occurs after the reading of today’s Torah portion, D’Varim. I cover this to remind us of the order of G-d. Nothing happens by chance. This should encourage us. He is always with us and sees our struggles and failures. He is there to speak to us, to encourage us and to help us carry on. 


Moshe in D’Varim 1:10 of our Torah portion, reminded the children of Israel that they had grown to be like the stars of Heaven in number, confirming what G-d told Avraham in Genesis 15:5.


In Psalms 147:4 we read, “He counts the number of the stars, He gives names to all of them.” With our Abba we all matter. He knows each of us by name. If He knows each of the stars of Heaven He certainly knows each of us as well. Do not ever think you don’t matter. You matter to our Heavenly Father. He knows what you are dealing with and He is there with you. What wonderful encouragement!

There is one other thing I want to mention before we get to the question I sent you this week. In Deut. 1:1 we read, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Di Zahav.” As we read this verse I want us to consider how Moshe reminded them of their past sins. He did not berate them or condemn then. He only used  the names of the places they stopped, where the sins happened, to remind them of the past. This should speak to us as we live in our current atmosphere.

What is usually done in our world today, if someone criticizes  another person? It is sometime done in a harsh humiliating way. Clearly, if we feel we must criticize someone we must take care to do it in a G-dly manner. Words must be said in a way that maintains dignity and brings life. Moshe could have said, “You crummy idolaters, how could you have done such a thing? You saw G-d at Sinai face to face and now you dance before a golden calf!” Instead, Moshe spoke to them in a way that they could accept and hear. Even though he was reminding them of their past sins they knew he loved them.  You may remember the one time he lost his temper and did not speak to them in a G-dly manner and it cost him his opportunity to enter the Land of Promise.


Now, in our time we hear a lot of yelling, name calling and shaming statements. Maybe we have even participated in this at some time in our life. This behavior does not bring positive change in the person being attacked. It usually only drives the person farther away. It can separate families. I pray we can learn from Moshe and speak kindly even with those we may disagree with.


Now to my question. D’Varim 1:16, “Hear the cases between your brothers and judge justly every man and his brother, and the stranger who is with him.”  My question hinges on the word translated here as justly.  The word in Hebrew is tzdik. This word can mean justly and can also mean righteously or compassionately.  How do this affect how we understand this verse and others like it in this book we started today? It is interesting that the book of D’Varim uses this word more than any other book of Torah. It occurs 18 times in this book in one of these forms. What can we learn from this fact? What does it tell us about justice? I think it shows us we have much to learn about justice and righteousness.


The root letters of this word means much more than strict legal justice. A good example occurs later in Deut. 24:12-13 where we read, “If a man is poor you may not go to sleep holding his security, return it to him at sundown, so that he will be able to sleep in his garment and bless you.” So here we read justice must be tempered by compassion. Our word tzdik in this verse speaks to the two meanings of the word. It means both justly and compassionately.


You have a legal right to hold the cloak of the person but if we have compassion we cannot keep his only means of staying warm for the night. We also must look with compassion on the person and return the cloak before night so he does not suffer from the cold. It speaks of being just in our dealings but also to remember our  responsibility as G-d’s people to exercise compassion where it is called for. Justice and mercy are both wrapped up in the same Hebrew word.


This lesson is so important in the days we live in. I pray each of us can exercise justice but always tempered with compassion when we deal with people.