middot enthusiasm torah diligence and memory

diligence and memory

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-rememberIn a biblical passage, the repetition of a work or phrase is a grammatical indicator of emphasis. Parashat Shofetim contains one of the more famous instances of this phenomenon:

Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live and take hold of the land the Lord, your God, is giving to you. (Deuteronomy 16:20)

The verses that surround 16:20 deal directly with what is to be tolerated (and what is not) in the community in order to preserve justice. The word for “you shall pursue” - tirdof - can also be translated “you shall seek.” In other words, justice is not just an abstract awareness that can be conjured up at times, but rather a social order to be sought out in nearly every sphere of life. This parasha gives explicit information as to what the pursuit of justice looks like: not taking bribes, not showing favoritism, seeking out objective facts to make verdicts, etc. In theory, the Torah could have left it alone at that. Why the extra exhortation in 16:20? I contend that the reason has something to do with the middah of diligence.

Seeking/pursuing is both powered by and indicative of diligence. A community shows its diligence in the area of justice through its pursuit, but the same community requires a certain amount of diligence as fuel to even get started. Justice is one of those things that does not come so easily; justice requires diligent effort. As noted earlier, the Torah gives explicit information as to what demonstrates diligence in the pursuit of justice, but it also reveals how we can become stronger in the diligence necessary for the pursuit. The Torah’s simplest revelation of the diligence necessary to meet its charge to pursue justice is found in its repetition of the word, “justice.” Why do we repeat things? We repeat things to plant them in our memory and condition ourselves to be aware of them.

God makes it very clear in Torah that memory is important. The agricultural festivals make the memory of Sinai as present as the changing of the seasons, Shabbat keeps recognition of God’s creation in the sphere of weekly life, and Deuteronomy itself is a repetition of the Torah (there are myriads of other examples). Diligence becomes strengthened in our lives through the process of repeating words and actions that reflect the values we want to uphold. May we all spend time in the repetition and reenactment of those things that bring us closer to being the people God would have us be.

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