May 21, 2024
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”רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: (אבות א:יח)“

 

A Second Three

The first perek of Avot ends Rashbag’s (Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel) teaching that the world “stands” on three pillars: “din, emet and shalom.”1 This recalls the beginning of the perek, which quoted a similar statement regarding Torah, avodah and gemilut chasadim in the name of an earlier Shimon — Shimon Hatzaddik.2

What is the relationship between the teachings of the two Shimon’s? Clearly, the later Rashbag is built off the idea formulated by the earlier Shimon Hatzaddik. Is he disagreeing with that idea, or is he further developing it?

The Meiri’s3 girsa (version) of Rashbag’s statement highlights a significant difference between his teaching and that of Shimon Hatzaddik’s. As opposed to the latter, who listed three things the world stands upon, Rashbag described the three things that are mekayeim (sustain) the world. In other words, while Shimon Hatzaddik identified the purpose(s) of existence, Rashbag related to what the world needs in order to exist, what sustains and maintains a functional, healthy society.

 

Emet

We begin our study of Rashbag’s three pillars with emet — truth. Emet is more than just one of Hashem’s 13 attributes;4 it is what He uses as His seal.5

This has significance for humanity as well. Rabbeinu Yonah6 explains that valuing emet should inspire us towards constant teshuvah and reflection. We should strive to live in the way Hashem (described as “true”) teaches us in His Torah — His true word.

Rabbeinu Yonah emphasizes the importance of emet to interpersonal relationships as well. The Torah prohibits lying to others7 and Dovid Hamelech includes “truth (even) of the heart,” as one of his eleven basic Jewish (behavioral) principles.8 If we cannot rely on each other, personal relationships and broader society can unravel.

 

Din

Understandably, judges that are responsible to maintain a healthy, fair, functional society need to be “men of truth.”9 This attribute gives them the best chance to achieve the first goal listed by Rashbag — din (law/justice). Though they are not always able to determine truth and they often recommend compromise in order to maintain shalom (the third value in the Mishnah), judges should never allow either of these factors to blur their vision of the truth. A society lacking the moral compass of truth inevitably becomes rife with cynicism and competition, generated by competing personal interests.

The commitment to justice is the basis of Hashem’s contrast of Avraham with Sodom. The people of Sodom acted cruelly towards each other and generated ze’aka (cries) and tze’aka (shouts).10 On the other hand, the Torah tells us that Hashem felt compelled to tell Avraham about the destruction of Sodom because Avraham intended to teach his family “the way of Hashem, which is ‘tzedakah u’mishpat — justice.’”11

Hashem chose Avraham because he appreciated what the world needs for its continued survival. Hashem created our world and entrusted it to us with the expectation that we will maintain it properly. Understandably, the Gemara12 teaches that one who judges justly is considered Hashem’s partner in creation. This partnership is the basis of our eternal closeness to Hashem. Hoshei’a HaNavi quotes Hashem as declaring that He betroths us eternally to Him through the medium of our pursuit of justice — “V’erastich li l’olam, v’eirastich li b’tzedek u’v’mishpat.”13

The Torah continues (beyond Avraham) to emphasize the pursuit of justice. Sefer Shemot14 tells us that leading up to Matan Torah, Moshe spent his entire day judging cases. Sefer Vayikra15 mandates just weights and measures, and Sefer Devarim includes Parshat Shoftim — a parsha named after the judges which requires us to appoint and charge with the mission of “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof — the pursuit of justice.”16 Parshat Shoftim also links our survival and thriving in Eretz Yisrael to this pursuit.17 One can understand this linkage as rooted in more than just heavenly reward and punishment: an unjust society inevitably disintegrates.

Yerushalayim is the foil of Sodom. The kings of Yerushalayim have always included the word “tzedek” in their names: Malki-tzedek was king of Yerushalayim in the days of Avraham,18 and Adoni-tzedek was king in the time of Yehoshua.19 This was because Yerushalayim was a place naturally associated with “tzedek — justice.”20

Naturally, Dovid and Shlomo founded their dynasty in Yerushalayim upon this principle. When Dovid Hamelech first ascended the throne in Yerushalayim, we are told that he was “oseh mishpat u’tzedakah — administered justice and kindness”21 In Sefer Tehillim,22 Dovid linked Yerushalayim’s achdut, peace and security to the courts that ensured justice. Shlomo continued to emphasize this important tradition to the degree that it was the salient point that the visiting Queen of Sheba appreciated most about his empire.23

Sadly, the Jews of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael veered from this path. In response, Yeshayahu HaNavi addressed them as officers of Sodom.24 A people and city meant to contrast the Sodomic ways had come to emulate them. Yeshayahu quoted Hashem as bemoaning the fact that the city He invested with a natural proclivity for justice had become filled with murderers and cheats.25 This brought about the exile predicted by Parshat Shoftim.

Yeshayahu prophesized that the Geulah will come when the Jewish people return to the path of justice. At that point, Hashem will restore the righteous judges and Yerushalayim will once again be associated with justice. Yirmiyahu HaNavi26 adds that, at that time, Hashem will regenerate the Davidic dynasty in its original form of mishpat u’tzedakah.

 

I, We, All of Us

May we live by the light of true values and be honest with one another, so we can build communities, cities and countries which embody the justice that Hashem expects from our world.


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.


1 Avot 1:18.

2 Avot 1:2.

3 Meiri, Avot 1:2. See also Tur (Choshen Mishpat 1) in the name of Rav Hai Gaon and Maharal, Avot 1:2.

4 Shemot 34:6.

5 Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Yoma 69b.

6 Avot 1:18.

7 Vayikra 19:11. See Bartenura (Avot 1:18) who references this pasuk.

8 Tehillim 15:2 and Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Makkot 24a.

9 Shemot 18:21.

10 Bereishit 18:20–21.

11 Bereishit 18:19.

12 Shabbat 10.

13 Hoshei’a 2:21.

14 Shemot 18:13-16.

15 Vayikra 19:36. See also Devarim 25:13-16.

16 Devarim 16:20-21.

17 Devarim 16:21. See Rashi on Pasuk 21.

18 Bereishit 14:18 with Onkelos and Ibn Ezra. Interestingly, we are introduced to Malki-tzedek together with the king of Sedom at the end of Perek 14. Understandably, Avraham gives a tenth of the spoils of war to the righteous Malki-tzedek but refused to partner with the king of Sedom.

19 Yehoshua 10:1.

20 See Medrash Rabba 43:6 and Ibn Ezra Bereishit 14:18. Understandably, Zecharyah HaNavi (Zechariah 8:3) called Yerushalayim “the city of truth.”

21 Shmuel II 8:15.

22 Tehillim, Perek 122.

23 Melachim I 10:9.

24 Yeshaya 1:10.

25 Ibid 1:21.

26 Yirmiyahu 33:14-16.

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