“Justice, justice you shall pursue.” This famous passage from this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, forms one of the core values of Judaism. Our rabbis teach in D’varim Rabbah that the pursuit of justice is even more important than ritual practice (sacrifice) and we read in Proverbs 21:3, “To do what is right and just is more desired by G-d than sacrifice.” Note that the passage doesn’t say “as much as sacrifice,” but rather “more than sacrifice.” So clearly we know, because of the repetition of the word, because of commentary, and frankly because of the entire rest of the Torah, that justice is a core Jewish value. But what does it mean to “pursue” justice?
Something that we must chase or pursue, is something that is just out of reach. It is a constant effort. It is not an easy task to bring tzedek into the world. Justice is not only the resolution of conflict, but the continual work of creating a just society, caring for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the poor in our midst.
Last week, there was a solar eclipse. I was blessed to be able to travel to see the full eclipse, but I have heard that my experiences were echoed throughout the country, even where only a partial was visible. At a time in our nation’s history when we are terribly divided, where once again we find that politics are tearing apart friendships and families, everyone came together to observe and celebrate this natural wonder.
It so happened that the eclipse fell on Erev Rosh Chodesh (as they all do – Rosh Chodesh is the new moon), but not just any Rosh Chodesh – but Rosh Chodesh Elul. Rosh Chodesh is always a time to think about new beginnings, but Rosh Chodesh Elul – the celebration of the final month leading into Rosh Hashanah – has even greater significance. This is when we are supposed to be performing cheshbon hanefesh – an examination of our souls. It struck me that just before Rosh Chodesh Elul in this very challenging year for our nation, the moon blocked out the sun and all was dark. But then, a diamond of light burst forth, a tiny beginning of hope.
The pursuit of justice sometimes must begin with one small act by one person, one spot of light. But the light of each person gathered together can light up the entire world. We can live in a just world, but only if we come together and pursue it.
Cantor Sally L. Neff