Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lech Lecha

Pursuer of Justice

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

After a long and exhausting war between two coalitions of kings in the area of the Dead Sea, the Torah tells us that our Father Abraham was informed that his brother Lot had been taken prisoner.

The Midrash, as usual, is very sensitive to the written word ("and Abraham heard that his brother had been taken into captivity") and asks in wonderment: "Was he really his brother?".
But, the Midrash answers that even after the quarrel between the shepherds of Abraham and the shepherds of Lot, and in spite of it, Abraham still called Lot "his brother" (Tanhuma, Lekh Lekha).

In this incident, our father Abraham begins a tradition of the pursuit of justice that reaches its climax in Parashat Va-Yera in the famous story about the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah when Abraham says "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).

The nature of Lot and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah did not make the crucial difference. Every time our father Abraham saw pain or injustice he intervened and even "cast words upwards" and knew how to argue with the Lord of the Universe.
The main point is that each man who suffered became "his brother"...

In this case as well, Abraham is the father of our nation. Throughout the generations our father Abraham trained by example many students who knew how to fight in this area: the pursuit of justice at any price.

I would like to bring an example of this very same struggle, Rabbi Israel from Salant, founder of the Musar Movement and social justice in the middle of the 19th century.

Once he was asked to supervise the level of Kashrut in a matzah bakery. He checked the way the work was done and observed the staff at work.

At the end of the inspection the owner of the bakery asked proudly: "And what is the Rabbi's opinion?".

And Rabbi Israel answered: "The Gentiles libel us by saying we use the blood of Christian children to make matzot. They are mistaken. But from what I saw there exists in your bakery a case of forbidden blood. What I mean is that you are mixing the blood of your workers into the matzot. I will not grant any certificate of supervision to this bakery!".

And on another occasion when asked what to be most particular about when baking matzot, he answered: "Not shout at the woman who kneaded the dough".

"Justice, only justice shalt thou pursue, that thou mayst live and inherit the Land" (Deuteronomy 16:20) is one of the most well known verses in the Torah. This verse is so powerful that we sometimes look only at the first part and not at the last one.

The Torah tells us that the pursuit of justice is essential in order to inherit the Land. Without justice we have no share in this Land.

Our existence in the Land and our quality of life as a society, are unequivocally dependent on our level of justice. There is a total dependency between our national future and our willingness to pursue justice because, very simply, if we do not pursue justice, justice will flee from us…

I have the feeling that Abraham already knew this verse in his time and knew very well that the Land that was promised to him would belong neither to him nor to his descendents if he did not take an active uncompromising stand on the pursuit of justice.

And we are talking about human justice, the same justice that builds the future and strengthens society, and also about heavenly justice, even when it is necessary to reproach and criticize the Lord of the Universe so that His mercy will conquer His anger.
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