The Four Key Words Part II

by Jim Myers


Note: This is the second part of ‘The Four Key Words.  The first
part explained the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘tzedakah,’ loosely translated into English as ‘righteousness.’ Before we could write Part Two, we lost track of the article. That's because we have hundreds of articles which are not catalogued because, frankly, we don’t have time.

                    We assume that God has many attributes, the characteristics that define Him as Who He is. One of the most important to us, at least, is that of Justice. We see God as the righteous Creator Who has established the difference between justice and the lack of it.

                   As justice is one of God’s attributes, He also expects his creation to carry it out. Since we are not God, it is necessary that He supply the information as to what justice is. We find that in our Bibles. It is thus our obligation to observe those commandments, thereby imitating God. And since America has been leaning toward the anti-biblical concept of "doing whatever you wish as long as it hurts no one," it follows that we should strive to understand the true concept of the Hebrew word mishpat.

                    The Hebrew word mishpat is found in the King James Version of the Bible translated as various English words. This alone should tip you off that there is no exact English equivalent of the Hebrew word. The five most frequent English ‘equivalents’ there are, are ‘judgment,’ ‘manner,’ ‘right,’ ‘cause,’ and ‘ordinance.’

                    Mishpat is different from the word tzedakah (in the June article), which is also sometimes translated as ‘justice.’ Tzedakah came to be recognized by the rabbis as something like ‘obligatory charity.’ That is, charity is not a choice. It is an obligation. 

                    On the other hand, mishpat, ‘justice,’ is an obligation to do whatever is necessary to increase the quality of a person’s welfare. It is synonymous with ‘holiness,’ and is closely related to such concepts as ‘mercy,’ ‘grace,’ ‘peace,’ and ‘redemption.’ Obviously, these concepts are not only expected of God toward people, but of people toward people, as well. Remember, in following God’s commandments, we are imitating God.

                    The Hebrew concept of ‘righteousness,’ the one we logically should follow, is different from that of the Greeks. Our problem is that we here in America have learned the Greek way of thinking.

                    In the Greek analytical way of thinking, ‘righteousness’ is considered to be ‘the way to do things.’ It is retributive (taking from the guilty) and distributive (distributing to the victim).

                    In contrast, the Hebrew concept considers ‘righteousness’ to be ‘what life should be like.’ It is equivalent to the concept of ‘love’ (not the Greek one) and is concerned with the full enhancement of social welfare.

                    We have now covered the concepts of Righteous and Justice. We are halfway. The remaining concepts are those of Repentance and Holiness.


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