Shabbat Message: One Step on the Journey to Justice

Posted on April 23, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

With this week’s parashah, Acharei Mot-K’doshim, we reach the pinnacle of the Torah’s vision for human life – that we should love our neighbor as ourselves; love the stranger and harbor no hatred; share our bread with the hungry; do justly, honor the elderly, and treat all people fairly – that we should be holy.

Reflecting on the lofty demands of this teaching the commentator Or HaChayyim notes that God’s call, “You shall be holy…” is presented in the future tense. The implication, he says, is that we can hope to fulfill this commandment only over time and with great effort. Even then, it is an ideal that has no upper limit, no clear point of arrival. It is an ongoing journey – a striving – and an aspiration.

I find this teaching especially helpful as I am processing my feelings about the verdict that found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. It is tempting to see this result as a vindication of justice and a triumph of goodness and righteousness. But in my heart, I know this isn’t true. If it is a victory for justice, it is only partial and exceedingly modest in the grand scheme of things.

Derek Chauvin has been held accountable for his crime, but George Floyd cannot be reunited with his family. He has been deprived of his life and they are still bereft. What’s more, the evil of white supremacy and racial bias that was the underlying cause of his murder, and that of so many before and after his killing, is a disease that still infects the soul of our society. The hoped-for verdict has not and cannot change this chronic illness of the human spirit.

Charlene Walker, the lead organizer of Faith in New Jersey, was right when she described what true justice would demand: “Justice,” she wrote, “is every single family and person, no matter their race or economic status, being safe to walk down their streets. Justice is an end to murder at the hands of the state; it is investment in our communities; it is great schools, livable wages, affordable housing, access to healthcare and healing, investment in gun violence prevention strategies, and enforcing restorative justice practices.”

Charlene Walker is right. Derek Chauvin’s conviction is just one step on a long journey to justice. Because justice, like holiness, is an ideal we must work toward and strive for with persistent effort day by day, in fervent hope that it will one day be achieved. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” says the Torah, in the future tense, repeating the word justice to remind us that justice must be pursued with justice, that the means must be consistent with the ends we seek. Justice must be pursued through acts of love and kindness, by honoring the image of God in every human being without exception, and – yes – by holding accountable those who violate the inalienable human rights of others.

So let us take heart. For every step in the journey toward healing the fabric of our society is a step in the right direction and a reminder of the truth so well expressed by Dr. King that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And it is a reminder that God implanted love and goodness and compassion in the soul of every human being, so that we may act to fulfill God’s vision that we will one day be holy, as the Eternal our God is holy.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck