Kedoshim: Justice Shall You Pursue

No Favoritism

Why are we warned against helping the poor and honoring the wealthy?

Table for Five: Kedoshim

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.

– Lev. 19:15

Rebbetzin Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO SANE; Author, Reaching New Heights

We cannot judge others simply by the external trappings of wealth, social position, or success. Rather, we should look at them (and ourselves) through the lens of “soul levels.” One person might have a “low-level” soul that is comparable to a first-grader, while his brother’s soul is comparable to a college professor. Some souls are “newer” with much more to accomplish; other souls are in their last incarnation, and having refined themselves over the years, have only a small amount of rectification to complete. Just as we can accept that a first grader cannot understand graduate level mathematics, so too we can accept one’s apparent defects may indicate a high-level soul and a great potential for holiness.

The higher the soul level, the more G-dly light it can receive. Yet an expensive, delicate vessel will shatter if too much is poured into it too quickly. Many people suffer mental and emotional disorders caused by an overabundance of “light” and a paucity of “vessels,” absorptive capacity. People may experience problems in daily functioning because they are not internalizing the light and energy flowing down to them. Adding holiness to one’s life—performing more mitzvos, and particularly, meditative prayer and profound study of the inner aspect of Torah (namely, Chassidus)—can correct this imbalance and allow one to become a proper vessel for this holy energy. Understanding this pattern of development can give us the proper perspective on the behavior of others and enable us to judge them with righteousness.


Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, N’vay Shalom & Faculty, AJRCA

After spending a majority of Leviticus focused on the sacrificial cult, expounding on the many types of offerings as a way to speak and connect with Gd, the Torah turns to what is called the Holiness Code. The focus shifts to remind the people that the offerings are not enough. It is our behavior that fulfills the Covenant and partnership with Gd. It is our actions that reflect Divine and holy emanation; observing the Shabbat, honoring our mother and father, not stealing, lying, cheating, not withholding workers’ salaries overnight, or cursing those with disabilities. It culminates with this statement, “not to pervert justice,” that all people shall be judged the same, rich or poor, famous or unknown.

In light of our present political landscape, how powerful this is. It is a reminder that no one is above the law. For though every human being is holy because a spark of the Divine is within them, making them a unique expression of the Holy One, yet they have no exceptional place when being judged for their sins or misdeeds. Holiness is not protectsia! Titles, positions, or influence are only place-holders of skill, experience, and renown, but behavior is what is judged. Righteous judgment demands equality. Even for less offenses, T’shuvah, the process of healing relationships after hurting another, demands the same actions of each one of us, no matter our age or profession. We should remember, ‘Lady Justice’ is blindfolded representing our value of true righteous judgement for all.


Rabbi Natan Halevy, KahalJoseph.org

Generally, helping the poor and honoring the wealthy is a good thing, therefore we are warned against this behavior in court.

Don’t say, “This is a poor man, the rich man has a duty of supporting him; I will vindicate him, thus enabling him to obtain support in a respectable fashion.” We must also not honor a rich, great, or wise man in judgment. For when a litigant sees the other side receiving honor, this will distress them and confuse their thinking. Judging a case truthfully brings peace to the world. Injustice leads to chaos and the opposite of peace. Making peace and compromise between the litigants is a good thing.

The judge who perverts judgment is called an “unjust person,” hateful, detested, doomed to destruction, and an abomination. This warning is also addressed to litigants to not try and secure favorable judgment by ruses. This is considered an injustice and perversion of justice, for a judge may reach a faulty decision when one of the litigants has deceived him.

The main thing to pursue in judgment is equal footing between the litigants, fairness being applied in the judicial process. Doing this strengthens the throne of the Almighty. As it is said of Hashem’s throne, as “righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.” If the judge judges righteously the Shechinah (the divine presence) is with them. Perverting the judicial system thereby undermines Hashem’s throne, demeaning Hashem’s Glory. If the judges fail to apply these standards the Shechinah withdraws.


Judy Gruen, Author, “Bylines and Blessings”

We take for granted the concept that each human being has inherent dignity, but this was a transformational, revolutionary idea when God introduced it through the Torah more than 3,300 years ago. In the ancient world, the vast majority were ruled by a tiny handful of the powerful. Laws weren’t designed by morality or ethics, only by the rulers’ current whims, political and military goals. Individual rights? Who had ever heard of such a thing?

God’s laws provided a framework for a just society based on respect for individual dignity and responsibility. They provided a pathway for us to become Kedoshim—holy people, living by a distinct moral code. This means that justice cannot be defined or redefined by someone’s popularity, social status, political views, or our own biases. Today, these Torah laws jump out at me with particular resonance. We see dramatically different treatment given to people based on their perceived political leverage, trendy victim status, or other biases. Were those “mostly peaceful protests” or an “insurrection?” Was that protected free speech or violent hate speech? Some people who commit violent crimes are arrested and then released; others may shoplift to their hearts’ content, based on a political urge to right previous wrongs.

Capricious application of the law and of justice undermines our dignity and undermines authority. It tears at the increasingly fragile fabric of society. A civilized society needs to make sure the scales of justice are equally measured.


David Sacks, Happy Minyan of Los Angeles 

How do we judge each other righteously? The Talmud tells of a near-death experience. When Rav Yoseph awoke, he saw that the people who are on top in this world are on the bottom in heaven. And the people who are on top in heaven, are on the bottom here.

Sounds interesting – but what does that mean? Imagine two people racing against each other. One runs on a track that’s newly paved. Meanwhile, the other runs on a track filled with ditches and barbed wire. The runner on the smooth track runs five miles in the time it takes the other to go a few yards. Who won? At first, it seems obvious. But then the Judge says, “You only ran five miles? You were supposed to run fifty miles!” The Judge then turns to his competitor amazed. “You ran thirty yards? That’s ten times better than we thought you could do!”

That first runner is the person born into this world with all the advantages: health, intelligence, and a supportive family. The second runner has none of those things but keeps striving in the face of adversity. What looks like envious levels of achievement in this world can be laughably deficient in the next world where we’ll be judged against what we could have done. So, before you judge another person, remember this: The question isn’t what you have. It’s what you do with what you have. Remember that and you will judge everyone righteously including yourself.

With thanks to Rebbetzin Miriam Yerushalmi, Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, Rabbi Natan Halevy, Judy Gruen and David Sacks

Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our weekly newsletter

Share to

You Might Also Like

Sign Me Up

Sign me up!

Our newsletter goes out about twice a month, with links to our most popular posts and episodes.