It makes sense that particularly in these days we can devoid ourselves from studying the first phrases of this week’s portion of the Torah. “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your town gates which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” So simple, so right, and even so some of the most prominent leaders today question the wisdom of these simple and straightforward requirements. Without a possibility to resolve issued properly, equitably, uniformly and without pressures mounted by government, society will not be able to stand on its feet for long.
For that matter we can simply quote the words of the prophet Isiah from this week’s Haftarah reading, “How lovely on the mountains / Are the feet of him who brings good news, / Who announces peace / And brings good news of happiness, / Who announces salvation, / And says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” The reigning King is not a ruler of flash and blood but rather that external force that overcomes the human nature and the difficulties he has to struggle with. The thirst for power, the greed for wealth. It is an external force that motivates the human heart to fight against bribery, even though it could better her financial position, contest injustice even though it may help him forward matters with persons of power. Salvation is achieved not by some person controlling affairs firmly but rather with the spirit of the prophets that strengthen links that connect together society.
There is something wise about the sentence, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your town gates”. The scripture could have simply stated, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in your town gates/” But there is this emphasis on “all your town gates.” I guess they could envision even in those early days that lawyer coming forward and arguing the case that it is said gates not all gates and therefore leaving one or two without judges and officers would be find. In those gates it would be less of a necessity to pursue justice to have the impact of law and order. It is not always convenient because who does not want at one time or another to bend a rule, or get a business through a faster process. The scripture says that the law has to be before us wherever we go always before us.
We are just a month away from celebrating Rosh Hashana of the Hebrew year 5781. There is no doubt in my mind that the year 5780 has developed quite differently from what we envisioned it may be when we left behind the previous year and entered this one. We hoped for different outcomes. Still it seems that there is what to learn even from year like this one, especially of the need to take a deep and introspective look into our society and the challenges we need to still overcome. Much of this year was loud, vulgar, involved finger pointing, restlessness, and lack of basic dignity and decency. We learned a lot about those leaders who keep screaming about the need to help carry the stretcher, a virtual one, of course, but fade away from the responsibility and obligation to navigate the stretcher to a safe harbor. Rather, it seems that they have an upside-down view of the world, and they comfortably stretch on that stretcher, striking us over and over again, while comfortably laying on that stretcher, not navigating but rather spending their time with others such persons and continue their pitiful and selfish quarrels that increase hate and not solutions.
The prophet cries, “Awake, awake, / Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; / Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, / O Jerusalem, the holy city; / For the uncircumcised and the unclean / Will no longer come into you.” Maybe we ought to add our such call too today. Our leadership ought to hear it over and over again for this country was built for us, for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren for generations to come. The beautiful garments are law and justice. Just like the prophet we must call, “Depart, depart, go out from there, / Touch nothing unclean; / Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, / You who carry the vessels of the Lord. / But you will not go out in haste, / Nor will you go as fugitives; / For the Lord will go before you, / And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
Chodesh Tov, Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 21 August 2020, 2 Elul, 5780