Love and Justice

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Parshat Shoftim

This Shabbat, this parsha, brings joy to rabbis across the country. To rabbis that spend their careers pushing for social justice, for fighting inequality, for fighting for the rights of all people, this parsha is a rallying cry. With its command of צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף, justice, justice you shall pursue, it is a clarion call to action. Just like the shofar we now hear daily in Elul, it is a reminder of our duties as Jews. The other day I was speaking to a congregant about one of the fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity. While faith is certainly important in both religions, action is a central pillar of Jewish thought.

Any other year, Rebecca and I would sponsor Kiddish to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Another year we might go out to dinner or see the show we were scheduled to see this past Thursday. Instead, we’ll have Jo-El’s deli with the minyannaires from our own homes tomorrow. Thinking about anniversaries, I was thinking about love. I thought about the prophet Amos and the prayer for peace in the Sim Shalom: “Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream. Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.” I thought about this prayer, not just because of the challenges we see in the world today, but also because of its primary message. To create peace, we need both justice and love. We need the balance between compassion and fairness. If we are totally compassionate, we are not always fair, yet if we are totally fair, we might not show much compassion. Together they bring peace. Peace will not come anywhere in the world until peoples can show both a willingness to work together (compassion) and a quest for at least a modicum of truth and justice.

In a marriage, honesty is important. Faithfulness is important. Love is important. The rabbis saw shalom bayit, peace within a home, as a primary Jewish value. We are obligated to treat our spouses well, to show them respect and to care for one another. A ketubah, marriage contract, has expectations that a husband will treat his wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Traditionally, he must provide food, clothing, shelter and sexual satisfaction (as determined by her). Traditionally, she was supposed to help him with being fruitful and multiplying, which interestingly enough, is a command only on the man and not the woman--according to Jewish law. Today, we might see those obligations as more mutual. When I was in school, Rebecca’s work supported our day to day needs, and she has certainly ensured that I am dressed better than I was in the past! Today, we see these obligations as more mutual, that our covenant as spouses includes a requirement of love, respect, shared purpose. Yet however we define marriage, the rabbis argued that its preservation was essential.

Maybe the rabbis were romantics, but they argued that peace in the home was essential. They suggest that the occasional white lie, MIGHT be ok. (Not a big lie, but a little lie to help peace.) I am not sure what the rabbis would think of “Yes, dear, I DID hear what you were saying and I’ll get right on it.” According to the Talmud, when Gd tells Sarah she will give birth to a son, she does not quite believe it, saying: "After I am old shall I have pleasure, my husband being old also?" But when Gd speaks to Abraham, Gd only shares part of her message, saying "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" (Genesis: 18:12-13). The rabbis comment that God omitted Sarah's mention of Abraham's age out of concern for their shalom bayit.

Whenever I talk to people about their anniversaries, especially after decades of marriage, I ask what their secret is? What makes it work and continue to work as people have grown and changed over their lifetimes. Speaking to one couple recently about the secret of their fifty years, they said one word, “compromise”. I might add patience and always thinking the best of one another. In Hebrew, dan lechaf zchut. In any situation we can question the motivations of one another. We can say that she did this because XYZ or ABC. When we assume the best of one another, we might occasionally be wrong, but we will probably be much happier and hopeful for the future. When it is us, united, against the world, we can do anything! When we assume the worst of one another, we spark bitterness and increase resentment.

Shalom Bayit is a clear vote for compassion, for love over justice. A marriage is not a place to worry about strict justice. While we might count how many times we took out the trash (or not), or who loaded the dishwasher correctly, we are far better off when we do not even try to keep track! To me, this parsha is a place for us to look for justice in the world, to fight for equality and for better lives for all, yet at home, let us try not to fight, but to work together and let love overflow our streams.

Shabbat Shalom!

The sermon above is the text I had prepared.  To see what I actually delivered, fast forward to 2:03:40 (2 hours, 3 minutes and 40 seconds) into the video below: