“Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
This Torah verse from Deuteronomy 16:20 is the inspiration for the name of the synagogue that I am honored to lead through the High Holidays starting tonight. They chose the name Congregation B’nai Tzedek (Children of Justice) inspired by that verse noting, “Our sages pointed out that the word tzedek is repeated in the verse to show us that justice must be our goal and that our means of achieving that goal must also be just.”
The United States is certainly no stranger to the challenge of doing justly while seeking justice. The amazing George Takei’s musical Allegiance, which premiers this month in San Diego, tells the shameful story of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Abu Ghraib torture, Guantanamo, and even the arguments to enter in the war in Iraq are all examples of the striving to balance justice, the challenge of the end justifying the means. America – who has rightly been a champion and model of justice in its history – is also confronted by the huge lapses in it to this day – our dealings with people unlike those in power – race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, country of origin, etc. – are littered with attempts to make a difference, but often fall short of doing so justly.
Such is the theme, obvious or underlying, of most every courtroom drama ever made. I cannot type these words without hearing Al Pacino shout, “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” from …And Justice for All. But outside the court and its structure, justice gets even murkier.