This post is adapted from my book, From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace (Orbis, 2014). For more about the book, click here.
The Rabbis of the Talmud observed that most legislation in the Torah is case law. If we find a lost object, we are to return it to its owner. If we own property, we must take precautions to ensure the safety of those who enter it. If we see our enemy’s animal struggling under its load, we are to help him. When Shabbat (Sabbath) or a holy day comes, we are to observe it.
Notably, two commandments are explicitly articulated not as responses to a particular situation, but as imperatives to be followed – indeed, pursued – at all times. We are not only to act in accordance with these imperatives passively when the occasion arises. We are to actively seek out opportunities to engage in them. The two cases are the pursuit of justice, of which it is said, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20) and the pursuit of peace, of which it is said, “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:15).
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