“Justice justice [tzedek tzedek] shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the L-RD, Our G-d giveth thee.” – Deuteronomy 16:2, JPS
Moshe proclaims the imperative to establish judges to judge the people, emphasizing the pursuit of justice. However, the Hebrew word, tzedek, may also be translated as righteousness. Therefore, the pasuk (verse)may be rendered, “Righteousness, righteousness, shall you pursue,” providing a more accessible understanding for the benefit of the everyday reader. Within this framework, the pasuk (verse) may be taken as an ethical imperative, that places a strong emphasis on individual righteousness. Besides, if we are not walking in righteousness, what right do we have to judge others?
Additionally, Inasmuch that the word tzedek (righteousness) is repeated twice, we may infer that the repetition refers to two types of righteousness. This might be alluded to in several passages within the book of Deuteronomy. The first, is a call for B’nei Yisrael to circumcise their hearts, making an effort on their own to improve their ways, moving towards righteousness (Deuteronomy 10).
The second, H’Shem states that He Himself will circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 30), whereas the righteousness that will ensue is a gift from Above. Viewed together, these two ways may imply that when we make an effort to draw close to H’Shem through teshuvah, He will meet us halfway (Shabbos 104a). For, when we attempt to improve ourselves, H’Shem will respond in like manner to our efforts.
Furthermore, to be righteous in H’Shem’s eyes, a casting away of aveiros (transgressions) is first necessary. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25, JPS). “I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem’s gift from Above will be bestowed upon us through the Ruach (Spirit), so that our lives may be sanctified.