Justice, justice, you shall pursue.*

The Bible rarely repeats itself. So when the word justice appears twice in a single phrase in this week’s Torah portion, we know that the Bible wants us to pay attention.

It’s the biblical equivalent of italics and bold print. And just in case we don’t get the point, the Torah reminds us that justice is not to be performed in a leisurely manner. No, the Bible tells us to pursue justice, to proactively engage in this paramount task. In other words, to get off our behinds and get busy.

I do not think it is a coincidence that we read this message at the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of introspection, of preparing our hearts and souls for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

And I am reminded of the fact that tzedek, the Hebrew word for justice, is the root of the word tzedakah.

Tzedakah, which we usually think of as giving charity, is one of the mitzvot, a word we usually translate as good deeds.** But the Hebrew words are much more powerful, and much more meaningful. Tzedakah is best translated as righteousness, and a mitzvah isn’t just a good deed, it’s a commandment.

Justice, justice, you shall pursue.

We are commanded to be righteous, to pursue justice with vigor.

How do we follow this commandment? We can begin by answering the invitation to introspection that the month of Elul offers. We each can take a deep, long look within, not critically but instead lovingly, taking stock of this past year, and discerning how we want to live our lives in the coming year. And then we need to decide how we will act, what we will do to pursue justice.

This year, our 10th anniversary, my congregation will study ten mitzvot, one per month from September through June. Each is a tool for justice: Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Freeing the captive. Honoring the elderly. Respecting the poor. And more.

We will celebrate our 10th anniversary in other ways too, but I am proud that we will dedicate ourselves to learning about ways to pursue justice, and then acting. If you are not a member of my congregation, I urge you to do the same. Each month, I will write about that month’s mitzvah and provide links that can help you get started in your own community.

Justice, justice, you shall pursue.

May we be blessed to heed the call, to do the work of making our communities and our nation a beacon of justice for all.

Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Jennifer

* Deuteronomy 16:20
**Mitzvot is the plural of mitzvah; one commandment is a mitzvah, two are mitzvot.