“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
THE RECENT OBSERVANCE of International Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of what it was like for the Jews to be refugees, persecuted by the Nazis, fleeing their homes and leaving everything behind.
They sailed from country to country asking for asylum, only to be rejected, not only because of their religion but because there was concern they might be Nazi spies.
So they were sent back to perish in the death camps.
When Russian Jews sought asylum from the Soviet Union, there was resistance because of the fear they were Soviet spies.
When the Vietnamese boat people sought refuge, they were thought to be communist spies.
Even our own Japanese citizens were put in camps because it was feared they might be Japanese spies.
Unfounded fear and ignorance are often at the heart of the rejection of immigrants and refugees.
In today’s world, there is a desperate need for more empathy, kindness, humility and justice, qualities crucial to solving problems like the world refugee crisis.
Too many of us, our leaders included, are lacking these qualities, being more concerned with self-interest than in the pain of the most vulnerable.
Justice, however, is the most critical quality in bringing about tikun olam, the repairing of the world.
In Hebrew, the word for justice is also translated as righteousness and is often used as a synonym for charity.
How, then, can we best follow the words in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice you shall pursue”? And how do we deal with the dilemma that what some see as just, others do not?
Rotarians have a Four-Way Test to guide one’s actions: Is it the truth, is it fair to everyone involved, will it build good will and better friendships, and will it be beneficial to all concerned?
A better place
The world would be a better place if more of us, including elected officials, ask ourselves these questions before we act.
Our most important guide in pursuing justice is simple: to treat others as we wish to be treated, a truly “golden” standard of behavior found in some form in all major world religions, and every spiritual path.
Shalom Spiegel, a revered Jewish scholar, said, “Justice is the soil in which all the other virtues can prosper. It is the pre-condition of all social virtue, indeed of all community life. It creates a civilized existence, it makes human existence possible. In every society justice must be the paramount concern, for it is the very foundation of all society.”
Albert Einstein’s words also reflect the importance of showing justice to strangers.
“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of others … for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.”
Let us keep the words in Amos 5:24 in our hearts: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community.