Within this parsha is our community's namesake. We read the powerful instruction, "Justice, justice you shall pursue." Why the repetition? you might be asking. Rest assured, just about every student and teacher of Torah has asked that question too. And perhaps more importantly, they have answered it differently. This repetition calls out to us, "Interpret me!" I would like to share one interpretation by the Yehudi of Przysucha that resonates with me in this moment. He taught that the word "justice" is repeated here to say that even in the pursuit of justice, you have to engage justly.
That second justice comes to remind us that true transformation lies in the how and not just the what. It can be easy to focus on the product -- the march, the rally, the campaign. But this verse reminds us that true justice is bound up in our relationships; in the depth of process that moves us forward. It offers a biblically based vision of social justice in which the ends never justify the means.
This teaching has led me to think about another way to interpret the repetition. First we must pursue justice in the world, beyond ourselves. Knowing that those experiences will ultimately guide us to turn inward, to heal and transform our own souls.
This is the season in our sacred calendar to hear the call of the second justice and turn inwards; to account for and heal from the many ways that we internalize systemic injustice and racism.
This reminds me of the lyrics written by Koach Frazier to his song, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof." In it he sings, "How shall I pursue justice? love, compassion and listening. And how shall I pursue justice? Embracing my own humanity."
May this first Shabbat of Elul be a time when you can offer yourself and those around you love, compassion and listening. And may you have the courage to embrace your own humanity, knowing that too is part of pursuing justice.
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. For those looking to experience the daily sound of shofar in this time leading up to Rosh Hashanah, here is a recording of me blowing shofar in the KT office!
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.