Shoftim – Deut. 16:18-21:9 (Aug.21/22)

As the Torah Turns

Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah

Shoftim – Deut. 16:18-21:9 (Aug. 21/22)

Our Torah portion this week is Shoftim – Deut. 16:18-21:9 – and begins with the opening words: “You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes… and let them govern the people with justice.  Do not judge unfairly: show no partiality, take no bribes, for bribes blind the eye of the discerning and subvert the cause of the just.  Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that it may go well with you.” (Deut. 16:18-19)   Is it just me or, as you read this, are you equally amazed at how timeless these words are?  Our Torah’s human stories go back for millennia, and yet they step off the scroll as if written for today. I have the honor to be part of the Global Justice Chavurah, a group of rabbis and cantors brought together by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to learn together about pursuing justice… acting with moral courage.  What does it mean to act on our values in the face of risks?   Ruth Messinger, President of AJWS from 1998 to July of 2016, and currently the organization’s inaugural Global Ambassador, recently shared her thoughts with us about speaking out on behalf of oppressed and persecuted communities worldwide.  She said that “… moral courage is a skill or habit that can be taught… a muscle to be used.  The more we stand up for what we believe in… the more we say hineini – here I am – to speak out and speak up… the more our actions and values will align with the pursuit of justice and equality for all.” Ruth Messinger continued: “These are indeed challenging times, maybe even the most challenging times that many of us will have lived through.  The global pandemic has brought to light the inequalities in health care and racial justice in a moment of economic meltdown.  But… neither despair nor depression are effective strategies for making change.  This is the time for leading – for acting – with moral courage.”  Friends, this is the time for “ometz lev” – to act with a strong heart – the courage of our convictions.  This is the time to move beyond indifference.  This is the time for each of us to understand our core values and use them as our moral compass to direct what we feel in our gut to work for the changes that must be made.  Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that it may go well with you.  When justice is pursued, may it go well for all of us.

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