We live in a world that is obsessed with things that are fair and just. People expect their environments to act in a way that is fair. In my experience, kids tend to be fair extremists. I allowed one group of kids to bend the rules once, and for years after, it was unfair of me to not bend them for others.
But what really bothers me, what makes me upset is when I'm not being seen for the person I am now. One of the beautiful things about growing up in a community is that people get to see you grow up and develop as a person. This is an amazing thing to witness. However, in my experience, it can also be very frustrating. When that person who watched me grow up looks at me, are they seeing me as a twelve year old? Or as a nineteen year old? Or as a professional? I have had the same issues as an educator myself. It is hard to see the person in front of you for who they are today and not a person with history.
Again, having an inclination towards trying to see the whole person and not just a sliver is a good inclination to have. But is also misleading. In this week’s Parsha, Devarim, Moshe tells us “You shall not respect persons in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of any man; for the judgment is God's; and the cause that is too hard for you, you shall bring unto me, and I will hear it/לֹֽא־תַכִּ֨ירוּ פָנִ֜ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט כַּקָּטֹ֤ן כַּגָּדֹל֙ תִּשְׁמָע֔וּן לֹ֤א תָג֙וּרוּ֙ מִפְּנֵי־אִ֔ישׁ כִּ֥י הַמִּשְׁפָּ֖ט לֵאלֹהִ֣ים ה֑וּא וְהַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִקְשֶׁ֣ה מִכֶּ֔ם תַּקְרִב֥וּן אֵלַ֖י וּשְׁמַעְתִּֽיו.” We are instructed in matters of justice to treat all matters of equal importance. The Talmud teaches us that “the small and great alike” means that a case worth a small settlement is as important as a million dollar case. And yet, I think we often, even with good intentions, take big things seriously and smaller things less seriously.
In addition, as humans, we will make the wrong decisions sometimes. Intentionally or unintentionally, we will end up wronging people in our community. What happens when we act unfairly and wrong somebody? Sometimes, we ignore it and hope that it will just go away and work itself out. But the Talmud teaches us differently. In reference to our verse when it says “for the judgement is God’s,” Rabbi Hama says in the name of Rabbi Hanina, that “God says ‘is it not enough that the wicked take money and give it unjustly to others illegally? But they also bother me so that I must return the money to its rightful owner!’”
When there is an injustice, it does not just work itself out. The Ben Ish Chai (19th Century, Baghdad) teaches that God has to actually act in this world and change the natural order of things in order to right that which we have wronged.
After Shabbat ends, we will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av. Our tradition teaches that our fast is intended to inspire us to repent and do teshuva. This is a wonderful opportunity to do our part. We can fix much of the world without relying on miracles from God. May we take some time this weekend to think about how we can tilt the scales around us towards justice and make the world around us more fair.
Shabbat Shalom and Tzom Kal,
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.