Last Shabbat we read the Torah portion of “Shoftim” (Judges) which contains the famous verse “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue”. This was particularly fitting this past weekend, as Israelis took to the streets in the largest demonstrations in our history in favor of a just society, with nearly half a million people in attendance in cities all over Israel. This represents about 6.3 % of our population, which would be equivalent to a demonstration of 19,600,000 people in American society!
All summer long in Israel, young people have been leading the protest movement for a more just society in Israel. They have rekindled hope in the hearts and minds of Israelis young and old, secular and religious, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, middle class and poor, Arab and Jewish. This has been a multifaceted, multi-dimensional, diverse campaign which is trying to be as inclusive as possible in an often highly divided Israeli society.
The idea of Israel as a just society is not new; it is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence:
“The state of Israel… will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel.”
Indeed this idea dates back to the prophets of Israel, especially Isaiah.
A few weeks ago, I gave a sermon on Shabbat “Hazon”, the Sabbath of Vision, which gets its name after the Book of Isaiah (chapter one), which is read in synagogues all over the Jewish world on the Sabbath when we begin reading the book of Deuteronomy, known as “Parshat Dvarim”. In that very famous chapter, the prophet talks about the restoration of the Jewish People to Jerusalem and says “Jerusalem will be delivered with justice and those that return to live there with righteousness.”
And we were reminded once again this past Shabbat—both by the Torah reading and the haftarah (prophetic reading, again from Isaiah), about the centrality of pursuing justice in our land.
It was therefore altogether fitting and uplifting that almost 500,000 people came out to issue a clarion call to the government of Israel—and to the world—that we are seeking to create a just society in the land, which will be fair and equitable for all the citizens in this country. It is inspiring that so many people in Israel share this fundamental value, and expressed this last night in such a meaningful way, without any violent rhetoric or actions.
May this be the beginning of a new era in which Israel returns to its fundamental values, and in so doing returns to itself, both in creed as well as deed!