Conscious Intention in Practicing Social Justice
1 א
Sefer HaBrit, II:13, “Love of Neighbors”, R. Pinchas Eliyahu (Kabbalist, 18th Century, Vilna)
Translation Original
Chapter 5. Now, reason dictates that there rests on every person an absolute obligation to constantly attend to fairness and justice in the society of one’s species, in order that the society should survive. And one should be diligent to uphold these principles, to distance oneself from injustice and from damaging any one of them, and to constantly be seeking out their welfare and their best interests, all of one’s days, for the sake of maintaining the covenant (brit) of the society, and the ropes that bind them, when one does the pleasant and appropriate acts that will give them, and derive from them, favor. Behold, it has been explained that reason dictates that this is an absolute obligation on every person, parties to the world covenant (brit), that reason dictates that one must grant goodness to one from whom one has received goodness and benefit…[Translation by Rabbi Dov Linzer. Edited for gender neutrality]
פרק ה'] מעתה השכל נותן שמוטל על כל אדם חוב גמור לשמור תמיד היושר וצדק בתוך חברת מינו כדי שיתקיים הקבוץ ויהיה שוקד על שמירתם להרחיק מעול ומהזיק לאחד מהם ולהיות דורש שלומם וטובתם כל הימים למען קיום ברית החברה ועבותות קשורם בעשותו מעשים נאותים וראויים להפיק להם ומהם רצון, הרי מבואר מצד השכל שזה הוא חוב גמור על כל אדם בעלי ברית עולם כי השכל מחייב להקביל בטובה למי שקבל ממנו טובה ותועלת...
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the world covenant?
2. What is the relationship between an individual and their community? How is this defined by the covenant of society?
3. What is your covenant with society? How do you act on your obligations?

Deuteronomy 10:18-19
2 ב

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה: וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

[God] upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him/her with food and clothing. -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
3 ג
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways does this text suggest that we mimic God?
2. What is God's responsibility to us and what is our responsibility to others? What are the different sources of these responsibilities?
3. This text reminds the reader of Israelite slavery. In what ways is a history of slavery connected to doing justice and loving the stranger?

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10: 5
4 ד
שאל העני ממך ואין בידך כלום ליתן לו פייסהו בדברים, ואסור לגעור בעני או להגביה קולו עליו בצעקה, מפני שלבו נשבר ונדכא והרי הוא אומר לב נשבר ונדכה אלהים לא תבזה, ואומר להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים,
If a poor person requests money from you and you have nothing to give, speak to them consolingly. It is forbidden to upbraid a poor person or to shout at them because their heart is broken and contrite...for it is written ( in Isaiah 57:15), "To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite." [translation by AJWS; edited for gender-neutrality]
5 ה
Suggested Discussion Questions

1) What does this text teach us about the way we are supposed to treat the poor?
2) Why is our attitude to those we help so important?
3) What doe we do when we want to provide for those in need but do not have much to give?

Deuteronomy 24:17-18
6 ו

לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר יָתוֹם וְלֹא תַחֲבֹל בֶּגֶד אַלְמָנָה: וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּמִצְרַיִם וַיִּפְדְּךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה:

You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger, the orphan; you shall not take a widow's garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that Adonai your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. [JPS translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
7 ז
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are we commanded specifically regarding the rights of the stranger, orphan, and widow? What do they have in common? Who do they represent in society?
2. In what ways does remembering a history of slavery enable us to care for the widow, orphan and stranger?
3. How do we care for the stranger, orphan, and widow today? How do we fail to care for them? How can we improve?

Rashi, BabylonianTalmud, Pesachim 8b
8 ח
הרי זה צדיק גמור - בדבר זה, ולא אמרינן שלא לשמה עושה, אלא קיים מצות בוראו שצוהו לעשות צדקה, ומתכוין אף להנאת עצמו שיזכה בה לעולם הבא או שיחיו בניו.
[One who gives tzedakah so that his child may live] is a fully righteous person - one is a righteous person in this matter, and we do not say that he did the mitzvah not for its own sake, for he fulfilled the Creator’s commandment to give tzedakah even though he intended it for his own benefit or for his children's welfare. [Hartman translation]
9 ט
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. To what extent does motivation matter when doing social justice work?
2. In what ways is activism beneficial for the do-ers?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
10 י

שָׁמוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ: שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ: וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל בְּהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ: וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַיֹּצִאֲךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה עַל כֵּן צִוְּךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת:

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Adonai your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God; you shall not do any work-- you, your son or your daughter, or your male or your female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or your stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Adonai your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Adonai your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]

11 יא
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, who is the Sabbath for?
2. What is the connection between observance of the Sabbath and being freed from slavery?
3. How does our experience in Egypt impact the way we treat those who work for us?

R. Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, HaEmek HaDavar on Leviticus 19:14
12 יב
הוא ג”כ ענין לשמירת שלום וחשיבות בני אדם זה לזה כמש”כ דכמו שהאדם מחשיב את חבירו, כך חבירו מחשיב אותו. ותניא בת”כ פ’ זו פ”ד הי”ב ב”ע אומר זה ספר תולדות אדם זה כלל גדול בתורה. ופי’ הראב”ד היינו סיפא דקרא בדמות אלהים עשה אותו את מי אתה מבזה את מי אתה מקלל דיוקנו של מקום ב”ה. ומי שאינו חושב כזה הוא בתואר מי שאין עלוי צלם אלהים.
This [mitzvah not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind] is also part of the concept of maintaining harmony and the dignity of human beings one to another…and it is written in the beraita… “This is the book of the generations of mankind” (Bereishit 5:1)-Ben Azai states: This a major principle of the Torah” and the Raavad explains that he is referring to the end of the verse “[mankind] who was made in the image of God”- whom are you degrading? [when you shame another human being], whom are you cursing? [when you curse another human being]? The image of the Holy One Blessed be He” And someone who does not think this way is labeled as if the divine image is not resting upon them!”
13 יג
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the relationship between maintaining harmony and caring for the disabled?
2. How does human behavior reflect upon God? Is this a concrete argument for social justice and activism?

BabylonianTalmud, Chagigah 5a
14 יד

מוטב דלא יהבת ליה מהשתא דיהבת ליה וכספתיה.

It had been better that you had not given him, than now that you have given him publicly and put him to shame. [Soncino translation]
15 טו
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Is it really better not to give if you cannot do it in a respectful way?
2. In what ways is shame a greater hardship than poverty?
3. What impact does this text have on public policy and social welfare programs?

Midrash Ruth Rabbah 5:6
16 טז
א"ר יצחק בר מריון בא הכתוב ללמדך שאם אדם עושה מצוה יעשנה בלבב שלם שאלו היה ראובן יודע שהקב"ה מכתיב עליו (בראשית ל"ז) וישמע ראובן ויצילהו מידם, בכתפו היה מוליכו אצל אביו, ואילו היה יודע אהרן שהקב"ה מכתיב עליו (שמות ד') הנה הוא יוצא לקראתך, בתופים ובמחולות היה יוצא לקראתו, ואלו היה יודע בעז שהקב"ה מכתיב עליו ויצבט לה קלי ותאכל ותשבע ותותר, עגלות מפוטמות היה מאכילה
Rabbi Isaac ben Marion said: This verse can teach us that if one is about to perform a good deed, they should do it with all their heart. For had Reuben known that Scripture would record of him, “And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand (Genesis 37:21), he would have borne Joseph on his shoulder to his father; and had Aaron known that Scripture would record of him, “And also, behold, he comesforth to meet you” (Exodus 4:14), he would have gone forth to meet him [Moses] with timbrels and dances. And had Boaz known that Scripture would record of him, “And he handed her parched corn, and she ate and was satisfied and had some leftover,” he would have fed her with fatted calves. [Translation by Soncino. Edited for gender neutrality and modernity by AJWS]
17 יז
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to "perform a good deed with all your heart?" Why is it important to do so?
2. How does one perform a good deed with all one's heart?
3. Is the social justice work you do affected by who’s watching? Why or why not?