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Truth and Justice (Shemot – 01/09/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Truth and Justice
I remember fondly (not too long ago) the days of my innocence when I didn’t know what the Alt-right, the Proud Boys, or QAnon were. Now I’m living in a time when I’m familiar with too many extremist groups, and hoping there’s not going to be a second siege on our Capitol.
When I was firebombed by two anarchist teens nine years ago (in Rutherford, NJ), the outpouring of support I received from across America convinced me that my attackers were outliers. If there are hundreds of millions of people in any country, some of them are going to be extremists and haters. They don’t represent the will of the country.
This year, Trump won nearly 47% of the vote. Yet there weren’t millions of protesters at Trump’s rally on Wednesday. Those that came to support “Stop the Steal” weren’t mainstream Republicans; they were America’s extremists.
The problem is that our president has been telling them that they’re good people, loved and special, and therefore they look upon Trump as their patron saint. In truth, all people deserve to feel loved and special, but not all ideals are worthy of such support and encouragement.
There’s much truth to the aphorism “hurt people hurt people.” I would bet that many of the rioters who were violating our Capitol on Wednesday would classify as hurt people. Perhaps if they had a better upbringing or were embraced by a different group, they never would have been there. But it would be naive and arrogant to say that all of them have such an excuse. Some people choose to make bad decisions that bring them down an extremist path. We have set ways of protest in our country; what we saw on Wednesday was terrorism, and there needs to be justice meted out.
In the Haftorah this week, Isaiah encourages all the Jews in exile to have hope, that God will have pity and return them to their lands. But it won’t be without justice first (Isaiah 28: 1-3):
“Ah, the proud crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is but wilted flowers on the heads of men bloated with rich food and overcome by wine. Behold God has a strong and powerful wind, a downpour of hail, a storm of destruction, like a stream of powerful, flooding water, and God will strike the land with God’s hand. Then will be trampled the crown of the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim.”
Now, I don’t believe we should live by a biblical standard of recompense, but Isaiah has a point: anarchy, hate, violence, and lies need rebuke and justice. Society can only exist peacefully and successfully if certain accords are met.
This idea was hand down to us nearly two thousand years ago in a compendium titled, “Pirkei Avot-Ethics from our Teachers”:
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: the world stands on three things: On justice, on truth, and on peace, as it is said in the Bible: “Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).
Let’s encourage our politicians to have the strength to promote truth and execute justice so that our society can once again thrive in peace and safety. Let us also embrace and encourage individuals in need of love and support. One word or act of encouragement might influence a person to goodness forever.

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