Parshat Devarim by Noa Albaum


Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

The first parsha of Devarim, Moshe’s own addition to the first four books of the Torah, teaches about how one is to judge one’s fellow. The text implies that not only is humankind prone to judging and therefore being judged, but also that we are obligated to set up systems of justice. We are told not to show favor in judgment–in order to judge, we must be as objective as possible. The Torah proceeds to tell us that we must hear the small as well as the great. It is difficult for us to evaluate what issues are actually “great” or “small”–this is why we must be impartial in judgment.


Through being as objective and open in our judgment as possible we are able to do what Rashi describes in his commentary as being subservient to our community, working not only for ourselves but primarily for others. This is what it is to listen justly between a man, his brother, and a litigant or stranger–Jew and non-Jew alike. Embodying this form of justice requires having an activist initiative–in order to represent all cases and hold them as equally significant under the law, we must make sure that every person is equally represented. This can be a scary proposition, but we are also told not to fear–we shall not let fear cause us to defer from justice, whether that involves speaking out for someone who cannot speak out for themselves because they do not have the economic resources or the language skills, such as an immigrant worker–or serving as a witness for someone whose case may be controversial or shunned by the community, such as a victim of domestic abuse. These are large tasks.


What reason do we have not to fear pursuing the seemingly unpursuable? God told B’nei Yisrael not to fear King Og despite his seemingly vast strength; the midrash (Berachot 54b) explains that the king tried to use brute force to beat down B’nei Yisrael but God–in all intentional irony–sent ants to eat a hole into the mountain. We can be empowered by this example, knowing that it is not physical strength but strength of mind and spirit that allows us to conquer obstacles and helps us to discard our fear and pursue the most daunting and difficult kinds of Torah justice.