“SEEK JUSTICE, LOVE mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
Judaism places the highest value on taking care of and seeking justice for the oppressed, and has always emphasized action over faith in order to bring about tikun olam, the repairing of our world.
We are taught that it is what we do that matters, not what we profess.
The Torah is replete with instructions to take care of the poor, the widow and the refugee.
In Leviticus, we are given law after law telling us how to treat our neighbor, whether they are strangers or friends.
Underlying all these instructions is the command that we do this to be holy, because God is holy.
Holiness is at the root of why our actions must show more concern for others than ourselves.
“Do not stand by the blood of your fellow” (Leviticus 19:16).
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
“Preservation of life” is paramount (Babylonian Talmud Shavuot 39a).
These principles in the Torah and Talmud must guide us during this time when we are in the middle of three intertwined crises in our country — the COVID-19 pandemic, facing systemic racism and an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression.
All these events have created a perfect storm for the most vulnerable in our society — the poor, the elderly, the sick, the underserved and people of color.
On a recent interfaith site, sermons were shared from multiple religious leaders — Christian pastors, Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis.
All advised their congregations how they should respond to today’s events according to their faith.
Since they are all Abrahamic religions, and the Torah is part of their sacred texts, it wasn’t surprising that their words reflected the importance of caring for those who are most at risk in our society, whether because of their health, their economic condition or bigotry that affects their lives.
Judaism teaches that it rests upon us to make sure we are doing all we can to protect others and save lives.
Thus, during the pandemic, staying home as much as possible, wearing masks and maintaining social distance shields those for whom it could be dangerous to contract the virus.
By taking such precautions, we are upholding the Talmudic admonition to ensure we are preserving life and the teaching in the Torah that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.
Deuteronomy 16:20 instructs us that “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” and justice is what hundreds of thousands of people are seeking by protesting the deaths of innocent African Americans.
This stunning outpouring marks the realization that we can no longer “stand by the blood of our brother.”
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have become some of the names which symbolize so much tragic injustice.
As people of all races and religions, even across the world, respond to these deaths, it as if they view these victims as their brother.
Those crying out in pain, anger and anguish over these deaths are expressing the belief that when one person suffers, we all feel their pain and that we must do all we can to seek justice.
Every life contains the spark of the Divine, and as the Talmud teaches, when we save one life, it is as if we have saved the entire world.
In all the crises we are facing today, the overriding command from the Torah is that we must treat every person as having been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
According to one Jewish midrash (a rabbinic story which flows from the Torah), when a person is born, an entourage of angels walks before them and proclaims: “Make way for an icon of the Blessed Holy One.”
Imagine taking to heart the concept that every person, when they enter the world, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, rich or poor, is escorted by angels proclaiming they have been created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.
When we can truly see the divine in every human being and feel the pain of every person’s suffering as if it were our own, we can bring justice to our world and begin repairing its brokenness.
It’s up to us to make it so.
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. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.