by Rachel Levy - August 21, 2015
“Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to Injustice everywhere.”
Both fascinating quotes: the first from Moses in Parshat Shoftim, and the second from the “Letter to Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. Even though these two men lived thousands of years apart, they shared a similar sentiment: Justice cannot be ignored, belittled, or prevented in any way.
In Parshat Shoftim, Moses’ sense of ‘justice’ is more businesslike, than moral driven. He has led the Jewish people through the desert for nearly 40 years, and has watched their miraculous transformation from a tribal society to a structured one. Moses knows that he will not be able to enter the Holy Land with the rest of the people, and is--for lack of a better phrase--doing some last minute spring cleaning. He wants to leave them with a clear and straightforward set of rules, regulations, and duties; he wants to leave them with a social contract.
What is a social contract? A social contract, as defined by my AP Government teacher, is the relationship between the people and the government that is responsible for the success of a society. For the Jewish people in Shoftim, the monarch has been established in divine approval as the executive power, and the Levites had been appointed the law keepers, solidifying a Judicial branch. Now that a Judicial branch has been instituted, Moses needs to outline the laws that must be upheld by the people and defended by the Levites. These laws range from outlawing sorcery, to outlining the burial procedures for a man found dead in a field. Moses really was a thorough guy.
My AP Government teacher has been teaching us political philosophy for two and a half weeks, and one of the most important questions that any of those philosophers had to answer was: “What is the natural state of man?” “Is man ultimately good or ultimately evil?” However they answered this would determine their argument for how a government should or shouldn’t be structured. I believe that man is ultimately good. Moses was passing all of these rules, regulations, and duties down to the next generation so that they could continue to preserve the good in man.