Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Shoftim 5772

Parshat Shoftim by Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander
24th August 2012

Marina Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were recently imprisoned for two years in Russia. Members of a punk band called Pussy Riot, they gave an unlicensed anti-Putin performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Accused of, among other things, blasphemy; Tolokonnikova declared that what she had done was:

“a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system”

The band decided to use its art form to protest, and suffered the consequences of a show trial and a harsh sentence. The women considered it worthwhile, in order to highlight the injustices they see in the government of their country.

Those of us who believe in democracy consider justice to be a core element of societal existence. In fact, recent studies at the University of California Los Angeles suggest that reactions to fairness are wired into the human brain, and ideas of fairness and justice may be instinctual in nature. As Liberal Jews, we consciously strive to be in the vanguard of social activism, following the prophetic teaching of our ancestors.  We demand justice: for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; for the oppressed, the helpless and the invisible people with whom we share this world. And as human beings, we judge. We judge each other, and our selves.

This week’s Torah portion is Shoftim:  Judges. It requires of us ‘mishpat tsedek’, righteous judgement. How might one define that? The text also tells us ‘tsedek, tsedek tirdof’, justice, justice shall you pursue. Since traditionally there is no superfluous word in the Torah, one may wonder why the word ‘justice’ is repeated.

It is no accident that we read these words at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul. We have entered a time of introspection, as we examine the past year in preparation for our celebration of the one to come.

It is so easy to judge others. The Pussy Riot-ers went too far, punk rock is a joke, they only got so much publicity because they are pretty girls! We have so many opinions, e.g.,  on climate change, the United States Presidential race, the future of the National Health Service! We do want to heal our world. However, we will have a much greater impact on our community if first we consider ourselves. It is time to look at what we have done, to examine our failures and successes, to identify what to hold onto and what to let go. It is time to judge our selves.  Where was the justice in our lives? Who have we helped? Who have we hurt?