July 18, 2016 י''ב תמוז תשע''ו
On behalf of Congregation B’nai Amoona, I welcome you to our synagogue and thank you for all that you are doing to see that justice prevails in our community. It has been nearly two years since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, just a few miles away from here, and we find ourselves in a situation in which the death toll from gun violence has escalated and where healing has not taken place. Instead in communities all over the country young men are being killed, whether as an expression of racism or as one of vengeance and frustration with the police. Our nation seems more polarized than ever before around issues of race, religion, politics, sexual identity and sexual preference. The same diversity that makes the United States of America unique in the world seems now to be what is the most difficult aspect for Americans to accept.
We, in the Jewish community, have been relatively well protected against this type of violence. Our neighborhoods are, by and large, safe and secure. Our children are occupied with many different types of extracurricular activities which keep them busy after school and enrich their lives. That is why it is so important for us all to be involved in this pursuit of justice, one of the mitzvot by which we are obligated as Jews. As you well know, in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) we learn, "צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף "- “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” The word צֶדֶק is repeated, and we wonder why. Perhaps it is to teach us that we should be certain to pursue justice for ourselves, but that is not enough. In order to fulfill the “b” part of the verse, לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ: - so that you may live and inherit this land which Adonai your God is giving to you, we must also pursue justice for others. It is only in a just society in which all are treated fairly and with respect that a people can truly live and prosper.
When I was a child, and perhaps this was the case during your childhood also, I would protest oftentimes to my parents that a decision that they made or that a circumstance in which I found myself was “not fair.” I always interpreted their response as one of resignation as they reminded me that “You know, life is not always fair.” As an adult, I recognize the reality of their answer. Though many of us believe in a just and fair God, the world in which we live is not just and fair. Too often we blame God for that, but as I have matured and continued to ponder the dissonance that is caused by a just, fair God, on the one hand, and an unjust, unfair world, on the other, I have come to realize that it is we, humankind, who do not always operate with justice and fairness. It is human beings who pervert justice for their own gain. It is human beings who attempt to provide for themselves an unfair advantage over everyone else. It is human beings who have created the injustices and the inequities that cause us to live in a world that is not just and fair.
In Devarim Rabbah (5:4) we learn something very important, something that I hope will guide you this evening and every time you seek justice as a united Jewish community. Rabbi Yitzhak said: ‘Two things are in God’s hands -- the soul and justice. The soul, as it is written: ‘In God’s hand is every living soul’ (Job 12:10). Justice, as it is written: ‘My hand lays hold on judgment’ (Deuteronomy 32:41). Says the Blessed Holy One: ‘You watch out for justice, and I will watch over your souls.’”
While justice is in God’s hands, we are to be the agents who bring it to pass. We are the ones responsible for creating and maintaining justice in this world, not just for some of us, but for all of humankind. When we watch out for justice, only then can we be assured that God will watch over our souls. As Jews United for Justice, you are leading our community and showing us the way to pursue justice and through that pursuit to elevate our lives and the lives of all Americans. In this way you work to elevate all of our souls. תודה רבה ואמן. Thank you very much and may it come to pass soon in our day.
Rabbi Josef A. Davidson
Congregation B'nai Amoona
324 South Mason Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63141
office: 314-576-9990 ext. 136