Week of July 5


I intend to restore this blog and write frequently. In truth, much is on my mind, but sometimes the rabbi does not know how to share his most intimate thoughts. Leadership demands truthfulness, but revealing all and being truthful are not the same.

Social Unrest

Jewish people have a respect for government, as indicated by the statement: דִּינָא דְּמַלְכוּתָא דִּינָא‎ - "the law of the land is the law." We also have a passion for justice. Sometimes these two commitments come into conflict. Some will choose one over the other or the other over the one. What has given me some clarity on what's occurring in our country is the verse: "Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20). The verse states that we pursue justice. That doesn't mean that we attain it. 

One of the questions that keeps arising in my mind as I witness what's happening is, Does justice have a limit? Can one take the pursuit of justice too far? I think this question has already been answered through the historical example of communism and the Soviet Union. Justice was one of the motivating ideas of communism, but communism quickly created a society in which injustice reigned. How is that possible? The only answer I can give is that even justice has limits. The other factor relies on a close reading of 16:20. The verse does not read, Justice, justice you shall attain. Justice is always a pursuit. No one can possess justice. Even the achievement of justice does not mean that more justice is still not required. 

What has been interesting is how the concepts of justice and mercy work together in the movement for social justice. Mercy, as opposed to being in opposition to justice, is for many the path to justice. The overriding feelings of compassion mobilize people to pursue justice. Yet that is the very factor that fails to balance out justice. I don't mean to compromise justice. Justice is a long arm, and cutting it short does not make mercy. Nonetheless, I intuitively sense that justice without any other competing principle can be destructive. This is how I respond to the movement for social justice.

Our Parsha, Pinhas

I don't want to give away too much material about the parsha because a rabbi has to preserve some of his Torah for other occasions. This week's parsha is most puzzling. It picks up where last week's left off, one and wonders why last week's conclusion wan't this week's beginning. God seems to reward an act of vigilante violence and that vigilantism is cast in terms of passion. God commends Pinhas' passion. Passion is one of those traits that has a positive valence. The question, however, must be toward what end is passion directed. 

Perhaps God even feared Pinhas, which is why He offered Him a covenant of peace. Perhaps, He was astounded by the zealotry committed in His name and knew that He couldn't allow such behavior to become a precedent. Nevertheless, He to acknowledge His gratitude just this one time. 

Our Congregation

Rabbis depend on interfacing with congregants. Using Zoom for every occasion has certainly diminished my ability to connect with people. That said, I have met people over the phone as a result of COVID that I never met in person, and COVID provided the reason for making that connection. We are clearly in the midst of some kind of trial, and each trial presents dangers and opportunities. Our congregation has to identify what the opportunities of this period. I would hope that some of that opportunity would be more of a chance to engage with Judaism since people are generally less busy.