Distinguishing Between Matsui and Ratsui


From the RHR vidui (Yom Kippur confession):

For the sin we have sinned against You intentionally or unintentionally,

Because we confused the current reality with the ideal reality .

And for the sin we have sinned against You through lowered expectations,

Because we believed the current reality is “good enough.”

For the sin we have sinned against You through accepting current reality,

Because we believed tikun olam (repairing the world) is beyond us, “In the heavens.”

And for the sin we have sinned against you, whether forced or willfully,

Because we asserted “I can’t,” when we meant, “I don’t want to.”

For the sin we have sinned against You through throwing off the yoke,

Because we gave up and said, “Let others repair the world.”

And for the sin we have sinned against You through short sightedness,

Because we neglected education and long-term solutions.

For the sin we have sinned against You through lip-service,

Because we moralized without translating words into action.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through faint heartedness,

Because we stood confused, without faith that light dispels darkness.

For the sin we have sinned against You through scoffing,

Because we mocked those who yet believe they can bring about a better world.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through knowingly deceiving ourselves,

Because we said, ”Everything will be fine,” in order to justify inaction.

We recently received the State’s answer to the Israeli High Court’s demand (in response to a petition by RHR and others) that they come up with a proposal for improving the discriminatory system of planning in Area C of the Occupied Territories leading to home demolitions. As we feared, the State took advantage of the fact that the judges had said from the outset that they weren’t going to force the State to accept our proposed remedy, and came up with a fig leaf solution. They have created a new protocol requiring consultation with Palestinians, but leaving the planning decisions entirely in the hands of the military government. There’s not even oversight or review by Israelis outside the army, and certainly our demand that planning authority be returned to Palestinian hands is not met. We will now need to convince the judges to pay more attention to their own criticisms of the current situation than to their reluctance to dictate to the State.

Somebody said to me yesterday, “You don’t really think there is any chance we are going to win, do you?” I paused for only half a second and said, “Of course there is a chance.” Another person added, “Don’t forget you are talking to Arik.”

I hope it is not just Arik. In Hebrew, we talk about the matsui (things as they are) and the ratsui (Things as they ought to be). They should never be confused.

Do I know that we are fighting an uphill battle? Of course. I know the reality I live in, but try to maintain the faith in God, in myself, in my partners, and in my people, that allows me to see the possibilities beyond the current reality.

There is a world of difference between acknowledging today’s reality, and accepting that reality, or its immutability.

In “Is Hope Defensible?-Rosh HaShana Thoughts,” I wrote about some of the understandable reasons that leave many struggling to maintain hope, and about both the objective reasons and the faith that maintain my hope. Given the reasons why so many of us are struggling, I feel a bit uncomfortable using the language of sin regarding the inability to see beyond today’s reality. It seems a bit like blaming the victim. Furthermore, I know that throughout history the human condition has sometimes been improved by those who had no intent to do so or no belief that they could do so. It has at times been worsened by those who intended to move us forward, and thought they could do so.

Nevertheless, we have a better chance of building the world that we dream of, and that God wishes for us, if we have a vision of what that world should look like, believe it is possible, and are willing to work to make it a reality. When we fail to do so, it is perhaps not “sin” as we often use the word in English, but it is “missing the mark” in the sense of the Hebrew word “Kheyt.” And , it does have consequences.

Many times during the recent war I have quoted from Pirke Avot 5:11, “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.” However, I do my best to add that the fact that our sages understood reality does not mean that they accepted or justified violence as an acceptable or helpful response to violence. It would be foolish and naïve not to understand why Hamas responds to Israeli oppression of Palestinians with violence, and Israel defends herself with more violence. That is the way the world works. However, if we lose our vision of the ratsui, we then accept Hamas’ murderous intent and the carnage Israel wrought in Gaza.

Our sages emphasized the miracle of the jar of oil over the Hasmonean military victory, and made “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit – said Adonai of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6) the haftarah reading for Khannukah. I believe they did so because they saw what became of that military victory, believed that things could and should be different, and wished to educate us to aspire to that different reality.

The very first story after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the story of Cain and Abel. Just before Cain murders Abel, God say to Cain, “Sin crouches at the door; Its urge is towards you, yet you can master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Ultimately Cain did not master his passions, but God believed that he could, and expected him to do so.

The reality of our world is one of injustice begetting violence in a seemingly unbreakable circle. Human beings give into passions of envy, lust for power and possessions, and righteous anger. It is entirely understandable that one would believe that human nature will never change. The philosophers of gloom tell us that to fight this makes things worse, and we must learn to live with and regulate this reality. Trying to hasten the coming of the Messiah only brings disaster. However, in another midrash I mentioned this summer, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is disappointed when the Messiah seemingly does not come “today” as he promises. Elijah explains to him that the coming of the Messiah and ushering in a new reality is dependent on us, basing himself on Psalms 95:7 “Today, if you hearken to my voice.” (Sanhedrin 98a). Our actions can shape and alter reality for the better, and usher in a messianic age.

A well known and incredibly bold midrash goes even further. Commenting on Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses says God, and I am God, ” Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai teaches that God is saying, “If you are my witnesses, I am God. But, if you are not my witnesses, I am not God.” (Yalkut Shimoni remez 281).

Those who do not understand human rights and dignity as we do believe in their ability to change reality. When the High Court first ruled against settlements on Palestinian land in 1975 they found a way around it. After the withdrawal from Gaza, they voted in a different government. After RHR won a series of victories returning land to Palestinian owners, and after additional cases by other organizations in which the Court ordered the removal of buildings in settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land, they set up the Edmund Levy Commission…

Our reality in Israel today may be more depressing than at any other time that I can recall. However, it won’t get any better if we don’t do anything about it. Let us resolve this year not to “miss the mark” by confusing between matsui and ratsui, making our peace with the matsui, giving up on our ability to bring the ratsui closer, or leaving the task to others.

Just today, RHR was in the High Court on behalf of Uri Ben Shmuel (63. Uri is extremely ill and handicapped. He had experienced a difficult childhood, addiction and imprisonment. He has managed to stay clean and rebuild his life since his release in 1994.

The State did not give him an apartment at that time, as is customary, because it knew that he could return to live with his mother in their small Amidar public housing apartment in Jaffa. He has lived there ever since, and even married.

When his mother died in 2008, Amidar recognized his status as a continuing tenant and signed a contract with him. They even offered him the opportunity to buy the apartment. However, after he appealed for a higher discount, Amidar declared he was a squatter. RHR has been representing him since 2011.

Although Amidar had recognized Uri’s status and signed a contract with him, they pulled out records of two Amidar visits, in which the inspectors had signed his mother with Alzheimer’s on a declaration that she lived alone. There is much evidence proving that Uri has been living continuously in the apartment since 1994, but the Court for Administrative Affairs refused to let advocate Cohen-Keshet cross examine the inspectors that carried out the visits.

Therefore, during the ten days of T’shuvah between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, with the books still open, we helped Uri present his case in the High Court. It was perhaps his last chance for justice, and to avert the evil decree. The court accepted our petition, and ordered the Court for Administrative Affairs to rehear the case.

This is not just a case about one unfortunate person.The State has not ensured sufficient public housing for many years. Amidar claims that it must evict Uri because others need the apartment more than him. We want to use this case in our struggle to save public housing, showing how State policy pits the needy against each other.

As we were in court, Palestinian farmers were harvesting their olives next to the settlement of Nokdim, in areas they had been prevented from accessing for many, many years. Many outraged settlers were no doubt truly outraged and dumbfounded to see the army protecting Palestinians next to their houses. Some of them had probably never seen a Palestinian working these lands since the day they moved in. Their security personnel had done a very good job of keeping them away, or expelling them quickly whenever they had managed to get to their lands. After two days of successful work, settlers succeeded in stopping the work yesterday. Today, the army got a hold of itself, and the harvest resumed.

Neither of these successes were to be taken for granted, and they were both the results of a great deal of hard work and dedicated effort. In neither case have we yet won a final or definitive victory. Like our High Court planning appeal, both have the potential to lead to wider and more systematic change. Both were the result of being able envision the ratsui beyond the matsui.

I want to conclude with a prayer found in the North American Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah (p. 157): “In a world torn by violence and pain, a world far from wholeness, a world still waiting to be redeemed, give us the courage, O Source of Good, to say: There is one God in heaven and earth…. Our failings are many – our faults are great – yet it has been our glory to bear witness to our God, and keep alive in dark ages a vision of a world redeemed.”

G’mar Khatima Tova –May the Final Seal Be For the Good,


About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.