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.
It’s never as easy as “Good” vs. “Evil”. Cable news and the movies (and even the Bible) often want you to divide the world that way. From our individual perspective, it sure sometimes looks like that. But good and evil are much broader and deeper concepts than most of us think.
The Horror Movie portrays Evil as particularly simple – a soulless killing machine that deserve to be destroyed (usually multiple times in the same movie). One of the best takes on both horror movies and the nature of hero/villainy is the recent original comedy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. The plot is that of any horror film: Young adults go into the woods only encounter two creepy hillbillies and the death that follows. But that isn’t this film at all as it is told from the perspective of those two country boys, Tucker and Dale. It is brilliant, funny, original, and will perhaps make you reevaluate evil from other films. (See the 1st #BlogElul entry discussing Darth Vader, for example).
I think this becomes personally important at the High Holy Days. The liturgy of services can lead you to villify yourself. But you are much more than the sum of your failings. There is no need to try and improve yourself if you are simple “Evil”. So don’t spend time on broad labels, but on positive possibilities for growth. Make this year less about being good than doing good. And the rest will follow.
#BlogElul is the brainchild of @imabima who blogs at imabima.blogspot.com. For the 30 days of Elul, the spiritual preparation before the Jewish High Holy Days, many Jews will be reflecting on the themes of the season. My posts will all be through the lens of movies. You can see all the themes in the graphic. Follow all the other excellent postings through Twitter at #BlogElul along with related items #Elulgram and #PopCultureElul.