The attempt to pursue justice and achieve justice is a corner stone of Judaism. In this week’s portion of the Torah these are presented to us in multiple ways. For example, we learn this week, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure… For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the Lord your God.” It is important to take notice to what is said here. It is not a comparison between the weights or the measures, be it big or small, either one is improper. A person wanting to deceive another person may use either for such deception in a way that may serve that person best. For example, when selling by weight that person may use the smaller weight as this would give an impression of selling more units of weight, and vice versa, when buying, using the larger weight as it will seem that less units of weight are being provided. The Torah demands, not larger not smaller, it has to be full and is must be just. Today we would simply say that it has to be a standard weight and way a standard kilogram if so marked, without deception and with no forgery.
The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, 1857.
This week’s portion of the Torah further demands, “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.” On first reading it may seem like a requirement for those who have to give to those who have not. The truth is that there is no demand to give whatsoever. There is a demand to leave, not to return and collect, not to return and to check for forgotten items in the field, the grove or the vineyard. Everything of this nature must stay where it was left or forgotten. However, there is no demand to give. In a sense there is a requirement for the alien, the orphan and the widow to come and take. They cannot simply sit there and expect that these fruits be brought to their doorstep. They have to go out to the field, they must toil and only then there is a chance of achieving justice, that justice that we are required to pursue, regardless of our particular situation, regardless of if we are on the have not or have plenty side of the equation.
Judaism is very cognizant of the fact that being weak at one time does not mean that it is a permanent state of affairs, and it accepts the fact that this may change. The weak of the society at the time have the right for the society at large to be at their side at the time of difficulty and we are not allowed to ignore their hardship. In fact neither the strong nor the weak are allowed to ignore this situation. In a just society, a society the pursues justice, there is always this delicate effort to try and balance things in that manner of understanding that we are speaking of a temporary situation that may change. That accepts that fact that at times there will be those whose state is much better than others, but reminds them, “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing”.
Yesterday, Thursday, there was yet another discussion on the Kotel at Israel’s Supreme Court. Unfortunately for us, at this time in Israel we are on the side of the weak, the alien, the orphan, the widow, and are constantly fighting to remind the Israeli society at-large, certainly that portion of it that is only interested in the partisan wrestling, that it is also necessary to support the less privileged of our society. Even if they do nothing regarding their duty to pursue justice it remains our duty to do are share, be there to take what is left after they have walked through the field, reminding them over and over again of their duty to leave things for others. We must pursue this justice because this government, that we thought was ready to work with a tough but hopefully fair compromise and leave something also to us, is now allowing those with temporary might to collect everything into their greedy bosom. The government withdrew from this agreement shamelessly without understanding that this is a deed of abomination on their part. The court suggested that the government recheck its position on the issue at hand and unfreeze that which it has frozen without the court having to make a judicial decision on this matter. The state will of course receive some additional time to provide its response and we will have to simply wait a little longer.
This additional wait makes many of us very angry, sometimes very impatient, or worst of all give up on this issue. I would like to remind us all what I have been saying over and over again. We are running a great Marathon, it is a large distance to cover, it has up and downs, long plains, and many bumps and we need to cross them all to reach our goals. These goals include not only the Kotel, conversion, marriage and Kashrut, all in the spirit of our Reform values, but also the building of an exemplary society to all of its citizens, a country which is a beacon of light to the nations, a place that houses justice and pursues justice. The key to our success was and remains patience, tenacity, containment, endurance, persistence.
Reuven Marko, 11 Elul 5777, 1 September 2017