In the haftarah for this parasha we read:
Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay,
So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means;
In the middle of his life it will leave him,
And in the end he will be proved a fool. (Jer. 17:11, JPS)
Would that Jeremiah’s words proved true in most cases, but, alas, history has shown us that they do not. The wicked, the greedy, the unjust often seem to succeed and rarely suffer any sort of Divine justice. It’s just another corner of the “theodicy” question – trying to understand why evil exists in the world, and whether evil is as much a creation of G”d as is good.
Some who amass wealth unjustly are brought to some kind of justice, but is it truly justice when those who suffered at the hands of this evil doer never truly get full recompense? The Torah reminds us that sometimes justice takes time to mete out, and can consequently span generations. However, even measured across generations, I have a feeling that the scales of justice aren’t balanced all that often.
I think if all we do is sit around and wait for G”d, or simply nature and time to balance things out, we’re missing the boat. Justice, like so many other things, is really up to us. I don’t believe that G”d wants us to wait around for G”d to act. It is up to us to act – we must feel obligated, compelled to act to bring about justice. It can be an uncomfortable thing to do, and it can also be sadly seductive. Admit it – we all enjoy those moments of schadenfreude, especially those in which the mighty, the rich, the famous, are brought low. So, if we are to seriously take on the the obligation of meting out justice, we must heed the Torah’s call to not show favoritism to anyone in the process.
Our current legal system does a horrible job. While it gives lip service to the idea of impartial justice, the reality is far from impartial, as most studies show. The rich and famous get better treatment. People of color generally are not treated as well by the system. This extends beyond the legal system. I saw an article the other day which talked about how Countrywide kept an “A” list of mortgage and loan customers, all of them rich, famous, influential, and many of them not even aware they were on such a list. Seems these people got much better treatment than your average Joe.
Justice is so difficult a thing to manage, it’s no wonder we want to turn it over the G”d. Given G”d’s track record, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. As imperfect as our efforts are, we must continue to try. Maybe between the “two” of us, that is to say, G”d and us, we might stand a slim chance at seeing true justice in this world. To do so requires us to accept that a human lifespan may be too short a time to see justice done. However, rather than trust to G”d to insure the justice is meted out of the decades, centuries, millennia, we must pass the responsibility down generation to generation, along with the understanding that each generation may only be a small part of a very long chain leading to eventual justice. It’s the old “planting a tree for future generations” story. Rather than see our limited time scale as an obstacle, let us view it as a challenge to overcome.
Judaism is one way we can pass on our values about justice. It’s not the only way, but for those of us who choose the Jewish way, this is reason enough to care about insuring that Judaism survives and its values handed down to future generations. As depressed and unhappy as I am that justice does not seem to prevail easily in this world, I’m unwilling to just turn it all over to G”d. I’m motivated to try and continue to teach young Jews everywhere that there is intrinsic value in learning about Judaism and the Jewish way. Are you with me for the long road ahead?
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
B’har-B’khukotai 5770 – Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 – The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 – Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd’s Way)