As we begin the first week of Elul, the Jewish month of reflection and preparation for the coming Days of Awe, we have a lot of work to do. Our nation is bleeding. In the aftermath of last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, so much is broken, starting with the moral abomination at the helm whose comments have empowered bigots and abused the vulnerable.
And then this verse shouts out at us from this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim: “Justice, justice you must pursue!”
Why is the word tzekdek—justice—repeated twice in succession? Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peschischa teaches: "Torah is telling us to be just also in pursuit of justice—both the end and the means by which it is obtained must be just."
This is crucial. Our tradition insists that if we wish to repair the world, we cannot pretend that a positive end justifies negative means. Justice will only endure if we achieve it with integrity.
Rabbi Mordecai Liebling was in Charlottesville during the white supremacist rioting. In his article, “Fighting What the Nazis Fear,” he speaks of the imperative to resist evil and, concurrently, to reach out, even—or perhaps especially—to those whose views are repugnant to us. He writes:
“We are faced with a difficult challenge: we cannot tolerate white supremacy and we must listen to the fear and pain that many of its supporters carry. . . The truth is that they are not getting what they were led to believe and their economic future is not promising.
It is the work of those white people who are able to hear their pain, attempt to reach over barriers and advocate for policies that will benefit them as well. Dehumanizing and dismissing them leads to more hatred. We will not bring about a more just society through violence.”
This is our enormous challenge in the coming year.
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice shall you puruse.
Resist and reach out.
Reach out and resist.