Tzedek tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue”
Jewish tradition teaches that there are no unnecessary words in the Torah. If a word appears twice, as it does in this week’s Torah reading there is a reason. The phrase tzedek tzedek tirdof, “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” urges people to seek justice, with the doubling of the word “tzedek” making it not only a suggestion, but an imperative. As Jews, we are commanded to strive to establish a just society with equal balances and measures, rights and protections. It is not a choice.
When I arrived at the JCRC of Greater Washington two months ago I immediately saw how my work – our work – was wholly dedicated to fulfilling this core Jewish value. I recognized this as I gathered with fellow faith leaders to discuss immigration and racism. I learned about my colleagues’ legislative efforts that address hate, poverty, disability rights, and so many other issues. I lived it as I spoke to nearly 150 teachers and mental health professionals from Montgomery County Public Schools, teaching them how to better support their Jewish students and be responsive to anti-Semitism in their schools. A busy summer, and still so much work ahead.
The Hebrew letters in tzedek – tzadei – dalet – kof – also spell tzadik, a righteous person. Justice is an outward action, something we work towards for others so that we can all safely and humanely co-exist in this world. Righteousness is a virtue that comes from within, reflecting integrity, morality, honesty, compassion, and humility. At times when tzedek, justice, seems beyond reach, the Torah compels us to move beyond our comfort zones and choose to be a tzadik. As we enter the month of Elul, a time of preparation for the High Holidays may we all seek new ways to integrate our aspirations for personal growth with our obligations to our people, our community, and the world. I look forward to working with you all in pursuing this sacred mission.