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Pursuing Justice, Making Peace

We live in a world where people scream about injustices. Sometimes, justified. And sometimes, unjustified.

Those we most often speak about are the wrongs, or slights, that involve people closest to us. We complain about this friend or that. We criticize this family member or another. Rarely do we seek to make amends and make peace. Rarely do we shout about societal ills needing repair.

This week we read about seeking justice. In addition to legislating how judges should be appointed, the Torah proclaims: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16)

We must hear this call for justice. Too often we misapply its message to friends and family. Instead, we need to spend more time pursuing justice for our society.

Our country faces many challenges. One example. There is a growing inequity between rich and poor. On our very own Long Island there are far too many homeless and hungry. The Interfaith Nutrition Network, for example, serves over 300,000 meals per year. We need to do more. We need to fight against the injustice of hunger and poverty.

This is the Torah’s demand. We must pursue justice.

Rather than working to fix these problems we look elsewhere to those closest to us and level the charge of injustice against family members and friends. With regard to these relations, we are instead commanded to pursue peace. According to our tradition Aaron best exemplifies peace making. Why? The Israelites clamored to build a Golden Calf when their leader Moses was busy on the mountaintop communing with God. Aaron was left in charge. He did not as one might expect talk them out of their unholy task of building an idol. Instead, he appears to have helped them. Aaron facilitated the building of the calf. The Torah’s judgment of his actions is harsh.

The rabbis, however, see in Aaron a model of peace making. They call him a pursuer of peace. Their suggestion is extraordinary. Even when family members are straying, or in this case building idols, we are to be like the disciples of Aaron, and make peace.

When it comes to family shalom, peace, is the greatest virtue. When it comes to the larger society the greatest value is tzedek, justice. We often confuse which value is to lead the way.

Pursue justice for society. Run after peace for family and friends. As the High Holidays approach, I pledge to seek justice for our society, and make peace among my friends and family.