Pursue Justice Whether You Are Praised, or Vilified

Guy Hirschfeld standing between settlers on horses, and Bedouin Sheep

I can’t think of a better Torah portion than Shoftim to remind us of what our upcoming elections are about. When we read about appointing judges, and the dangers of bribery and corruption, we must remember that there are those who openly wish to undermine our judicial system. Some simply don’t believe that some of our leaders might be acting corruptly, some want to allow the legal process to take its course, some wish to convict without due process, and some just don’t care whether our leaders are corrupt. Shoftim is also a parasha where I remember one of my mentors, Rabbi David Forman z”l.  “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) was one of his most frequently quoted verses, along with the explanation that “justice” is repeated twice because we must pursue justice through just means.

I agree that those of us who believe we are pursuing justice must always ask ourselves about our own methods.

It also occurs to me that, although we must strive to pursue justice in ways that win over even those who initially disagree with us, we must continue to pursue justice even when we are vilified.

Both of these interpretations are relevant in this month of Elul, leading up to the High Holy Days. We recall that our deeds are our most important defending and prosecuting attorneys before the Holy One of Blessing during this season of judgement and introspection. Yet, we also know that we have earthly supporters and detractors. We should never let support blind us, or become a substitute for continuing to be both self-critical, and dedicated to our goals. We should not be dissuaded by our critics, but we should be able to honestly ask ourselves if there is anything to learn from them. Hopefully, the fact that sympathizers and critics are taking notice means that we are actually doing something.

גם בחודש אלול אלחנן ונעריו מהמאחז הבלתי חוקי אפילו על פי ישראל, "מלאכי השלום" לא מוחנים לחדול מעושק ידיהם. למרות הבקשות לשמור מרחק, עזבו את העדר שלהם כדי להטריד את הבדואים. נתפלל שיעשו תשובה.The month of Elul -the beginning of our season of repentence – hasn't yet inspired Elkhanan from the illegal even according to Israel outpost, and the troubled youth he takes in, to stop their threatening ways. Despite our requests that they keep their distance, they left their flock in order to try to intimidate the Bedouin.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Torat Tzedek‎‏ ב- יום שני, 2 בספטמבר 2019

This week “Im Tirtzu,” the organization an Israeli judge ruled has similarities to fascism and apparently receives government funding, apparently again got their supporters to pressure Facebook into suspending the page of my colleague, Guy Hirschfeld. I wonder when they will again demonstrate outside his home. The fact that he has toned down his posts is irrelevant, because their position is that it is forbidden to document the activities of soldiers. I think this is abandoning our children. I know that whenever I have found out that one of my children did something wrong (thankfully, this has rarely happened) and I didn’t know about it, I felt both embarrassed that I didn’t know, and upset with those who knew, but neither spoke to them or to me.

However, I have now become an additional target of Im Tirtzu after daring to grab the reins of the mule of one of the youth at risk sent on an almost daily basis to harass Bedouin shepherds of the same age, by the settler shepherd who has taken them in.  As I wrote to some of the tens (perhaps we will get to hundreds) of “well-wishers” who I am respectfully answering one by one, I continue to be committed to working for an Israel living up to our highest Jewish and Zionist values.  That sometimes means, “When nobody is acting with human decency, you must be the one who does.” (Pirkei Avot).

Please click here for the link to the Im Tirtzu  Facebook post. For those of you who don’t read Hebrew, the screaming headline is  “ARIK ASCHERMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE RADICAL LEFTIST ORGANIZATION, TORAT TZEDEK, HARRASSES JEWISH CHILDREN.” Above it, we are told, “Watch the radical leftist activist act thuggishly to a Jewish youth that went for a morning ride in Judea and Samaria. Without fear or embarrassment, he does that while filming. This is how these implants make a living.

Yes, I was filming.  Here is the link to my video, showing the moments leading up to the point that the Im Tirtzu clip begins. I have been including it along with my individualized responses, to those cursing and wishing me various deaths. In Hebrew I ask the youth abandoning their own flock in order to harass the Bedouin flock, which way they want to go.  To paraphrase Abraham’s words to Lot, “If you want to go to the left, we will go to the right.  If you want to go to the right, we will go to the left.” I begged them to keep their distance. They remained silent, and continued to approach. Recalling how they drove their horses into a flock a few days earlier, I finally grabbed the reins.

Getting back to justice by just means, I have asked myself whether it was just to grab those reins. I believe that it was. At the same time, as I weed through those cursing me, I have tried to respond as thoughtfully as possible to those expressing coherent disagreement. I have done my best to seriously consider what they have to say.

I pray that each and every one of us will use this season of introspection and adjusting our course to rededicate ourselves to pursuing justice, and that we will have the ability to ask ourselves whether we are  pursuing justice through just means. I hope that we will have the ability to seriously listen to our critics, while not being dissuaded from our ideals and goals.

May we hold ourselves to these same high standards when we enter the voting booth.  Rather than vote defensively or automatically or blindly, may we require of ourselves to vote in a way that ensures that we will be a society pursuing justice through just means, and where our judges and officials will not be blinded by bribes (16:19) May we vote for a government that will not undermine our legal system, but rather will observe the commandment “You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the communities that Adonai your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.  (16:18)

Shabbat Shalom

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.
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