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Parashat Devarim - Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is often called Mishneh Torah, or the “second law,” due to it’s repetition of many of the things already expressed within the first four books of Torah. However, it does not merely recount the same events and dialogues, but adds detail and clarification to the previous events. When recalling the appointment of judges Moses gives a detail not found previously in the Torah:

You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's. (Deuteronomy 1:17)

Yes, there are several instances prior to this that address the issue of being impartial in judgment, such as Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” But until now we haven’t been exposed to this specific language. What are “the small and the great”? Are they small and great cases, or small and great people? The Torah does not specify, so it is left up to interpretation. Both Rashi and Targum Onkelos understand it to mean small and great people. Judges are not to show favoritism among litigants.

Judging with impartiality is crucial to a fair and legitimate system of justice. Even the popular image of Lady Justice, the personification of justice, bears a blindfold in many instances to represent this basic requirement expected of those in seats of judgment. Yeshua taught, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

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