Jews Working for Justice

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Halakhic Man." Trans. by Lawrence Kaplan. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983), P. 105-106

Man, the creature, is commanded to become a partner with the Creator in the renewal of the cosmos; complete and ultimate creation — this is the deepest desire of the Jewish people. The Scriptural text “And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Bereshit 2:1) — the Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, translates va-yekhulu, “were finished,” as ve-ishtakhlelu, “were perfected” — is both a profound expression of the soul of the people and the most fervent desire of the man of God. This lofty, ontological idea illumines the path of the eternal people. When a Jew on the Sabbath eve recites [this passage as part of] the Kiddush, the sanctification over the wine, he testifies not only to the existence of a Creator but also to man’s obligation to become a partner with the Almighty in the continuation and perfection of His creation. Just as the Almighty constantly refined and improved the realm of existence during the six days of creation, so must man complete that creation and transform the domain of chaos and void into a perfect and beautiful reality. [Lawrence Kaplan translation]

(ה) כִּ֤י אִם־הֵיטֵיב֙ תֵּיטִ֔יבוּ אֶת־דַּרְכֵיכֶ֖ם וְאֶת־מַֽעַלְלֵיכֶ֑ם אִם־עָשׂ֤וֹ תַֽעֲשׂוּ֙ מִשְׁפָּ֔ט בֵּ֥ין אִ֖ישׁ וּבֵ֥ין רֵעֵֽהוּ׃ (ו) גֵּ֣ר יָת֤וֹם וְאַלְמָנָה֙ לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשֹׁ֔קוּ וְדָ֣ם נָקִ֔י אַֽל־תִּשְׁפְּכ֖וּ בַּמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאַחֲרֵ֨י אֱלֹהִ֧ים אֲחֵרִ֛ים לֹ֥א תֵלְכ֖וּ לְרַ֥ע לָכֶֽם׃ (ז) וְשִׁכַּנְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בַּמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תִּי לַאֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם לְמִן־עוֹלָ֖ם וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃

No, if you really mend your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between two people; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt -- then only will I let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors for all time. [JPS translation]

לא נכנו נפש. קשה היה לראובן עצת האחים, והיתה כוונתו להצילו. ואילו אמר: לא נכנו סתם, היה מראה עצמו בדבריו כי מניעתו זאת לחמלה עליו, וע"כ הוסיף להזכיר "נפש", כלומר שאינו מקפיד עליו רק עליהם, שלא יכו נפש שום אדם. וכן מה שאמר: אל תשפכו דם, ולא אמר "דמו", כלומר גם אנכי ככם שנאתיו, ואין אני מקפיד על דמו כלל כי אם עליכם, שלא תהיו שופכי דם

Bachya Ibn Pakuda, Genesis 37.21

Do not strike a soul – The plan of the brothers was hard for Reuven, and his intention was to save [Joseph]. If he had said, “Don’t strike him!” he would have shown himself in his words that he had pity on [Joseph]. Therefore, he added the word “soul” as if to say that his protest is not specifically about this situation, but that they should never strike any person. And so he said, “Do not spill blood” rather than “Do not spill his blood,” as if to say, “Like you, I also hate him and I don’t care about his blood, but I don’t want you to become murderers.” [AJWS translation]

מַלְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, בְּמִשְׁפָּט שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה, מַעֲמִיד אֶת הָאָרֶץ. וְאִישׁ תְּרוּמוֹת יֶהֶרְסֶנָּה. אִם מֵשִׁים אָדָם עַצְמוֹ כַּתְּרוּמָה הַזּוֹ שֶׁמֻּשְׁלֶכֶת בְּזָוִית הַבַּית וְאוֹמֵר מַה לִּי בְּטֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר, מַה לִּי בְּדִינֵיהֶם, מַה לִּי לִשְׁמֹעַ קוֹלָם, שָׁלוֹם עָלַיִךְ נַפְשִׁי, הֲרֵי זֶה מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם.

If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, that person gives stability to the land... But if a person sits in their home and says to themselves, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if one does this, they overthrow the world. [translation by Hazon]

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי בשעה שהולך בדרך איקוניא של מלאכים מהלכין לפניו ומכריזין ואומרים תנו מקום לאיקוניה של הקב"ה.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that when a person walks on the road, they are preceded by a company of angels who proclaim: "Make way for the image of the Holy Blessed One!" [AJWS translation]

(ט) וְעַתָּ֕ה הִנֵּ֛ה צַעֲקַ֥ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בָּ֣אָה אֵלָ֑י וְגַם־רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הַלַּ֔חַץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם לֹחֲצִ֥ים אֹתָֽם׃ (י) וְעַתָּ֣ה לְכָ֔ה וְאֶֽשְׁלָחֲךָ֖ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְהוֹצֵ֛א אֶת־עַמִּ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים מִ֣י אָנֹ֔כִי כִּ֥י אֵלֵ֖ךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְכִ֥י אוֹצִ֛יא אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

Now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover, I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them. Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?" [JPS translation]