The first two verses of this parasha explain how judges are to be selected and how they are to judge - they are not to show favoritism, they are to be righteous themselves so they judge justly, they are not to take bribes. And then, in verse 20, one of the most quoted phrases in the Torah:
Tzedek tzedek tirdof
Justice, justice shall you pursue
According to Rashi, this is a commandment to 'seek out a good court', and, if we read the rest of the verse, this is so "that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you."
Impartial justice is clearly important in the Torah. We already read in Leviticus 19:15:
'Do not pervert justice;
do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great,
but judge your neighbor fairly
Elena Kagan was just confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. During the hearings which preceded her confirmation she was asked many questions. A number of articles suggested questions she might have been asked.
At the Learning Blog of the NYTimes there is a list of the questions about her confirmation hearings. They are based on the related article here which describes some of the things she actually said.
An interesting article in Tablet Magazine by David Sarna examines Kagan's answers from the perspective of Jewish attitudes toward justice, particularly the use of precedent.
If you were on the committee considering Elena Kagan for Justice of the Supreme Court, what questions would you have asked her based on what you learned in this week's Torah portion?
Big Idea: We all have an obligation to preserve the natural world. This concept is known in Hebrew as "Bal Tashchit"
Verse 19 in chapter 20 reads as follows:
When you besiege a city a long time in order to conquer it, don't destroy the trees by cutting them down, You can eat the fruit from them, but don't cut them down, 'ki ha-adam etz hasadeh, lavo mipanecha bamatzor'.
The phrase ki ha-adam etz hasadeh... is usually translated as a question: Is the tree of the field 'man' who should be beseiged by you? But some prefer to look at it differently, as you can read here in a lesson from Nechama Leibowitz.
You might also be interested in reading an article about weddings that discusses this issue (well, it doesn't exactly say Bal Tashchit, but you'll see the connection when you read it