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Shoftim Sermon

This week’s Torah portion is about appointing judges and establishing courts.  It contains the famous verse: “Justice, justice you shall pursue…”  I have been thinking about how we approach the pursuit of justice.

We are commanded by our tradition to pursue justice and to pursue peace.  We often confuse these two values.  We apply justice when we should apply peace.

Societies of course are to be built on justice.  Families by contrast are built on peace.  Yet we speak about injustice when it comes to family members.  You wouldn’t believe what uncle so and so did.  How many families sever ties over such perceived injustices?

When it comes to families however we should be talking about peace and not justice.  Both notions have to be pursued.  It is an interesting word choice.  To pursue is to run after.  You can’t wait for justice or peace to come to you. 

There is a related value to justice.  In order to pursue justice you must run after truth.  Societies must be built on truth.  Forgive my venture into politics, but our politicians seem unable to speak truths anymore.  Both Democrats and Republicans refuse to speak honestly and forthrightly about the problems we face.  They do not speak truths.  Our problems are not going to fix themselves.  There are the problems of global warming, joblessness, and poverty to name a few.  Yet we appear unable to speak honestly about the problems facing our country.

But when it comes to family and friends there are no shortages of truth.  You can hear all of the sordid details of what this family member did to that or this friend did to another.  Whereas societies must be built on truth and justice families must be built on forgiveness and peace.  You can’t have peace without a lot of forgiveness

I wish we could get it right.  Families could certainly use more forgiveness and even forgetfulness.   Our society requires more truth and even righteous indignation.  We need justice for our country not for our families.  We need to speak loudly about the problems facing our country and turn a blind eye to the mistakes we see in our families.

It is not easy to bring justice or peace. That is why our tradition says we must pursue these values. So let’s get out there and try to fix things in our broken country. And let’s get out there and heal things in our far too judgmental families.

Is it mere coincidence that Friday's sermon touched on the same theme as Tom Friedman's New York Times column?  Yes.  Then again perhaps it is indeed because we need more truth-telling!