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Righteousness and Justice

11/06/2020 12:24:31 PM


As we have all been awaiting a final result of the US Presidential Election, a prayer from our daily Amida stands out. The eleventh blessing reads as follows:

Restore our judges as before and our counselors as at first. Remove sorrow and sighing from us, and reign over us You, Hashem, alone with kindness and compassion; with righteousness and with justice. Blessed are You, Hashem, King, Lover of righteousness and justice.

Interestingly, the sages recognized that much “sorrow and sighing” is attributed to the perceived absence of justice and righteousness in our leadership. The prayer longs for leaders to behave more like our biblical leaders, who emulated leadership characteristics modeled in the Torah by God.

The first leader of the Jewish people was Avraham Avinu. He learned to lead with kindness, compassion, righteousness, and justice directly from Hashem, in the the form of modeled behavior.

In the opening verses of Parashat Vayeira, read this week, we witness various acts of hesed, kindness toward fellow human beings. Just as Abraham is recovering from his circumcision, Hashem Himself comes to pay a visit. The Talmud describes this as an action bikkur holim, the jewish value of visiting a person to offer comfort when they are not well (Sota 14a). The Talmud concludes that just as Hashem visited Abraham after his brit milah we also have an obligation to care for the sick. Furthermore, since elsewhere in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13) we are told "You shall follow after the Lord your God," that is interpreted to mean that we are to imitate Hashem's values and attributes. Just as Hashem made clothes for Adam and Eve once they realized they were naked, we also have an obligation to provide clothing for those who are without. Just as God comforted Isaac upon the death of his father, Abraham, and buried Moses in Moab, also we must comfort mourners in our community and bury our departed brothers and sisters.

Abraham immediately took up the mantle in the very next verse of our Parasha. Despite that he was still recovering from his circumcision and he was under the weather enough to be visited by Hashem, Abraham rushed out to welcome in guests who were near his home. This act teaches us another important Jewish value of hospitality and welcoming guests.

Indeed, hospitality, visiting the sick, and comforting mourners are more than just values - they are commandments incumbent upon all of us. Yet, there are no specific verses in the Torah instructing us to perform these acts. It seems that there are many mitzvot that the Torah teaches us by detailing specific commandments, while others are taught not by explicit instruction, but by example. We are shown by God, our ancestors, sages and teachers how to behave and then we are expected to emulate their ways.  

Our behavior serves as a model for others. If we give charity to worthy causes, others will follow suit. If we value active participation in our synagogue community, others will join. If we stand up for Israel, others will be inspired by our example. If we make Jewish ethics and rituals ever present in our homes, the next generation will internalize those values and we will fulfill our duty to "...follow after the Lord your God."

I am grateful that our country values our individual and collective voices. Although we are ultimately compelled to choose one of two likely candidates, we pray with the confidence that will God guide all our leaders on the path of mercy and justice. May all our actions reflect our values of kindness and righteousness, and may we inspire others to follow suit.

הָשִׁיבָה שׁוֹפְטֵינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה, וְיוֹעֲצֵינוּ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה, וְהָסֵר מִמֶּנּוּ יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה וּמְלוֹךְ עָלֵינוּ אַתָּה ה' לְבַדְּךָ בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים, וְצַדְּקֵנוּ בַּמִשְׁפָּט. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מֶלֶךְ אוֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Suson

Sat, July 2 2022 3 Tammuz 5782