The chapters of Shof'tim and Ki Teitzei focus on laws and justice. Last week, in Shof'tim, we read the iconic words: "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (justice, justice shall you pursue) (Deuteronomy 16:20). In both Shof'tim and Ki Teitzei, we're urged to pursue justice, to run after it, and to chase it down.
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to hear Bible scholar Dr. Marc Brettler reflect on this powerful verse. Speaking at HUC-JIR in the Berkshires during a gathering for learning and community, Brettler read this excerpt from a letter he wrote to the Biden administration in January 2021:
"After justice, after justice, must you chase (tzedek, tzedek tirdof)." Most English translations miss how emphatic this command is. It repeats "justice" twice-as the medieval Jewish commentator Abraham ibn Ezra notes, this doubling implies that you must act justly time after time, whether it is to your advantage or disadvantage. The word I translated as "chase" is often incorrectly rendered less forcefully as "follow" or "pursue"- but it is a very physical word. You do, and should, get tired from such sprinting - but it is essential to keep running after justice and to call out and to redress injustice, wherever you may find it."
Brettler points out the nuances of our understanding about chasing after justice, but how do we actually go about doing it?
That's where Ki Teitzei, this week's Torah portion, comes in. In "The WRJ Women's Torah Commentary," Dr. Adele Berlin teaches us that, "Shof'tim concentrates on public officials, but most of the laws in Ki Teitzei are directed at ordinary individuals."
Ordinary individuals. That's everyone, you and me, all of us. We think about how small actions can make a difference and how individual people can create great changes.
Our congregations, WRJ sisterhoods and affiliates, and social action committees are great places to start making an impact. Whether by participating in a public park clean up, visiting a hospital, or encouraging members of your community to sign up for one of the URJ's REDI Workshops, our local Reform communities are an excellent entry point to pursue justice in our own backyards. You can start by thinking about how to make your home community more inclusive and equitable. By showing that we care on the local level, we embody the ethic stated in Ki Teitzei and elsewhere: "When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the orphan, and the widow," (Deuteronomy 24:19).
ACT WITH STATE ORGANIZATIONS
Much has been done to advance state-level organizing and advocacy in the Reform Movement. There are now nine Religious Action Center state projects in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas that are pursuing crucial campaigns. These projects, and other statewide initiatives, represent groups of ordinary people coming together in extraordinary ways. There are also ways to act on a state level even if you live elsewhere. Recently, thousands of Reform Jews joined in text-banking to support RAC Ohio's Reproductive Freedom campaign. These were ordinary people coming together to pursue justice. Our individual actions are greater than the sum of our individual parts.
This fall, Women of Reform Judaism will partner with One Fair Wage to support national and state-level organizations of service workers and restaurant employees working together to end the subminimum wage. In this way, we embody the values expressed in this week's Torah portion, "you must pay out wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker…urgently depends on it" (Deuteronomy 24:15).
CHASE JUSTICE EVERYWHERE
As we look toward our most sacred season, the High Holidays, it is time to reflect and turn inward. How have we made a difference this year? How have we chased after justice? How have we worked to make the world just a little bit better for our neighbors? The Tzedek Box, a new ritual that supports year-round reflection and justice action, is another opportunity to renew our commitment to chasing justice. As Ki Teitzei reminds us, "when you make a vow to the Eternal your God, do not put off fulfilling it" (Deuteronomy 23:22). Each of us should chase after the chance to make the world more just.