Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Parshas Shoftim

“Justice, Justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 17:20). These were the words of Moshe Rabenu to the Israelites in this week’s parsha, commanding them to appoint judges and law enforcement officers to every city in the Land of Israel.

In reference to the exact verse, Rashi writes, in Sifrei Devarim 144:15: למען תחיהוירשת

[JUSTICE, JUSTICE SHALT THOU PURSUE] THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE, AND INHERIT [THE LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH THEE]. The appointment of honest judges is sufficient merit to keep Israel in life and to settle them in security in their land.

These words imprint upon a Jewish consciousness the holy pursuit of Justice.

Lawrence Hoffman writes in his piece, My People’s Prayer Book, that the Amidah is numbered sequentially in 18 step-by-step benedictions until one reaches redemption. Restoration of just judges is the tenth benediction, as it follows the ingathering of exiles to the Land of Israel.

Regardless of Jewish backgrounds or even in the belief of redemption, most Jews in the Land of Israel, as well as in the United States, may often suggest we fall short on the expectations set for Justice.

But there is hope…

In the United States, the Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship was established in partnership with the Amy Mandel, Katina Rodis fund. Their partnership draws from the spiritual legacy of this week’s parsha, and they offer advocacy work on behalf of marginalized communities across the United States.

Other small, Jewish oriented non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups are offering similar work where needed. The same foundation that generously funded the Tzedek Social Fellowship also funded Keshet, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Southern Jewish Resource for Gender and Sexual Diversity, as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, often in partnerships with the Anti-Defamation League, has taken civil rights cases to court and has helped push legislation against discrimination, violence, anti-Semitism, and racism on behalf of marginalized communities. In the wake of Charlottesville both organizations have teamed up in an effort to combat a rise of anti-Semitism being felt nationwide.

Justice, as demonstrated by these small but important organizations, is a spiritual pursuit, a pursuit we are commanded to engage with.

“Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” Kein yehi ratzon.

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel and as the student rabbi of Beth Boruk Temple.
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