Purchasing Justice

by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

In a small town in Eastern Europe, the rich and poor lived side by side without serious problem for many generations. As trade with nearby communities grew, however, the divisions between rich and poor grew, as well. One Shabbat, as the Torah was being read, the poor stopped the reading midstream, as is their right, with an objection: "There is no justice in this town," they protested to their rabbi. The rich dine on delicacies and drink wine, while the poor scrape by on potatoes and cabbage and drink weak tea. The rich wear garments of silk and velvet and in the winter enjoy warm coats of wool; the poor have but a few heavily patched and inadequate garments and certainly nothing sufficient to keep them warm during the cold, winter months. The rich travel about in horse-drawn carriages, while the poor trudge through snow in the winter, mud in the spring, and dust in the summer. The Torah promises Justice, indeed it demands Justice, the poor protested


The rabbi considered their claim and agreed. What to do? Clearly, the Torah's requirement that a community be suffused with Justice was unfilled in this shtetl. So the rabbi assigned his two brightest disciples, students of Torah, to go out into the world and seek Justice and bring it back to the community. He collected 2,000 pieces of silver from the rich of the town, who feared what would happen if the grievances of the poor were not addressed

The students left bright and early the next morning. They traveled far and wide, finally arriving in Warsaw. The magnitude and magnificence of the great city awed them. Never had they seen such glorious buildings and so many people in one location. On every street corner, peddlers cried their wares: pots and pans, textiles, foods of every kind, books, buttons, and boots. Everything could be had on the street corners. Not knowing where to look, the students approached a street vendor and inquired, "Sir, can you tell us where to purchase Justice?

"Did you say you want to buy Justice?" the peddler inquired incredulously. Sensing that he had before him exceptionally naive folk, a plan soon took shape in his mind. "I have a friend who sells buckets of Justice," he replied with a smile. "The best Justice in all Warsaw. I'll take you to see him.

Before sunset, the two students were the owners of a large bucket of Justice, sealed tightly, purchased for 2,000 pieces of silver. The seller had warned them not to open the bucket until they arrived home, lest the Justice seep out and dissipate in the atmosphere, becoming lost to them forever. Open it only in your own community, he had warned, or it will all be lost

When the young men arrived home, they brought the bucket to the town square. They were formally greeted by the rabbi, who uttered a berakhah thanking God for bringing Justice into their midst. The entire community, assembled in the town square, said "Amen" and the rabbi ceremoniously opened the lid of the bucket. The people stood silently, watching their rabbi. A bewildered look came across the faces of his students

"It's empty!" one student cried in alarm. "The bucket is empty!

"How could that be?" the other asked anxiously. "We brought home a full bucket of Justice. We purchased it at a very dear price, too.

The rabbi immediately realized what had happened and how the young students, naive in the ways of the world, had been duped. Yet what had the rabbi expected? After all, how could one purchase Justice

"Certainly the bucket is empty!" the rabbi declared with confidence. "As well it should be. The bucket is empty because the Justice was dispersed throughout our community the moment the lid was removed. It now infuses everything in our town, and will permeate all that we do. Listen carefully to your words, my friends. Pay attention to your deeds, dear neighbors. Justice will be in everything you say and do from here on in.

And, indeed, it was so. For the people knew that Justice hung in the air, Their words were mediated by their newfound concern for fairness decency. Their actions took on a new quality as they carefully consider the effect their deeds would have on others. The rich came to see that providing for the poor was their duty. The poor no longer resented the rich. The town came to see that their 2,000 pieces of silver were well spent, for indeed they had acquired Justice.

The Chamber of Secrets

Stone Soup via Vishnitz

The Fox and the Fish

The Fishing Lesson


Honor Your Parents

The King and the Fisherman

Honi the Circle Drawer

The Slave Who Became King

Challot in the Holy Ark

The Power of Gemilut Chasadim

The Story About an Angel

Purchasing Justice