God doesn’t mince words when it comes to doing the right thing… although the Torah does sometimes use repetition to make sure we get the message. This week the message is unmistakable: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” (Deut. 16:20). Meaning: Run like hell after justice, without thinking, without pausing, without worrying about yourself or how you look to others, or how it might affect your own life.
Recently, I asked a group of people to ponder this question, What would you be willing to give up in order to ensure that others do not go hungry? I warned them that I did not mean donating a can of soup from the back of the pantry, or giving the second jar of peanut butter from a buy-one-get-one-free scheme. I meant quite literally, What would you be willing to do without, on behalf of a hungry stranger?
I have two friends whom I admire deeply for their willingness to put their own needs aside. Rabbi Mike Moskowitz has given up a great deal in his pursuit of justice for the transgender and immigrant communities. Rabbi Jessica Shimberg stands up and speaks out loudly, publicly, and movingly, in support of people who cannot stand up for themselves.
Both travel to protests, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, putting their own lives aside while working on behalf of others. Their commitment to actively engage in the struggle for justice is remarkable.
I have not asked Jessica about this, but I suspect that her work has taken a toll on her. I know that Mike has paid dearly both professionally and personally, and yet he has persevered.
What about the rest of us? Even if we’re not ready to travel to Texas to bear witness to the treatment of immigrants, as Mike did, there is much that is within our reach, especially in an election year.
But before we go running off, perhaps it would be wise to pause for a moment, look deep within, and ask some questions:
How am I living up to being made in the image of God?
Have I remembered to see others as made in the Divine image?
How can I help alleviate the pain that others feel?
What can I do to make my community a better place for everyone?
If not now, when?
This month as I prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I will ponder these questions, aspiring to be my highest self in service to community. May we each be blessed with the wisdom to see clearly, the vision to chart a new path forward, and in this season of repentance, the strength to ask forgiveness for our wrongs.