“You shall place judges and guards in all of your gates which Adonai your God has given you to dwell in. You shall judge the people with righteousness. (Deuteronomy 16:18)”
In trying to understand this passage the Chatam Sofer connects it to a passage from Hosea (Chapter 2) in which the prophet links righteousness and judgment with kindness and mercy. He (the Chatam Sofer) sees that later passage as a kind of quid pro quo between us and God. God gives us kindness and mercy, while we are expected to give the world righteousness and judgment (judgment, probably in the sense of fairness, in this context). In fact, it’s a bit more than an ordinary deal that God made with us — it was, essentially, our “bride price.” It was the exchange by which our marriage to God (the Rabbi’s favorite metaphor for our covenant with God) was created. God said, “I promise to give you kindness and mercy; you promise to judge fairly and with righteousness, and by this exchange, we will be linked forever.”
That’s why we have to put “judges and guards” at our gates to make sure that we judge with righteousness: if we don’t have those protections, and our righteousness falters, we’re in violation of our marriage contract. We have to hold up our end of this bargain, or we’ll have no right to expect God to do so in return.
Our entire relationship with God is contingent on our being willing to continually act with righteousness and justice in the world.
As always, I don’t take this literally. I don’t believe that, were we to stop caring about justice, the earth would rebel and start treating us with viciousness. I don’t think that the rains will stop or disease will descend on us if we stop pursuing justice. But, I very much believe that our relationship with God is based in our willingness to pursue justice, and that there’s no way to ignore justice without violating that relationship. I believe that our ability to connect with the Most High only exists when we are concerned with fairness “down here.”
I’m pretty sure that religion which is unconcerned with justice isn’t actually religion, at all. It’s sacrilege.