Zach Bernheimer, Evyatar Bar-On, and Benjamin Robbins were Action and Advocacy Immersive participants this summer. They worked together to write a d’var torah on behalf of their classmates for their immersive-led service.
Abraham. Cain. The daughters of Tzelafchad. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All of these people have one thing in common: passion for advocating for and pursuing justice. Cain advocated to God on his own behalf for a more just punishment. Abraham stood up to god in order to prevent the destruction of an entire city. The daughters of Tzelafchad advocated for the right of women to inherit land, for themselves and for future generations. Now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg pursues justice for women across the U.S. The idea of advocating for justice is found in one of our oldest stories, and countless times throughout the Torah. It continues to be a cornerstone of Judaism to this day.
When Tzelafchad, an Israelite man with no sons, died, he had five daughters. At the time, only sons were permitted to inherit land. The five women spoke with Moses about the unfairness of the law. Moses then spoke to God on behalf of the daughters, and God agreed that women should be able to inherit land.
In 2018, an Israeli Jewish man died. At his funeral, his two grieving daughters were told that they were not allowed to stand next to their father’s body while he was being buried, because they were women. Together with the Reform Movement in Israel, the women sued the Rabbinate in the Supreme Court of Israel.
In both stories, the daughters fought for their basic rights. The difference between the two is that in the first story, the rights of the women were realized and the law changed. In the second, women were denied their rights despite existing law that prohibits separating genders at funerals in Israel.
The seemingly simple idea of pursuing justice has influenced many great leaders throughout history, with many of them being Jewish, such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. However, many others, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weren’t Jewish. Nonetheless, Judaism is a religion that heavily embraces and emphasized social justice. In fact, in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, there is the phrase, “tzedek tzedek tirdof,” meaning “justice, justice shall you pursue.” However, that implies that the pursuer of justice is a man, so instead, we should say tzedek tzedek tirdof, tirdefi, v’tirdefu. Justice justice you all shall pursue. Looking back, this small phrase explains so much about many parts of the Torah that people often overlook, seeing them as trivial metaphors. However, a decent amount of these are tales of the pursuit of justice.
We, as Jewish teenagers, participants in the Action and Advocacy immersive at the URJ Kutz Camp, have spent a summer learning how to advocate for equality, organize, and speak truth to power. We know that our voices are strongest when we stand together and speak as one. Now, we have the tools that we need in order to continue the long, arduous journey to pursue social justice. We will not be silent. We need you to do the same: speak out, join with your friends, family, and community in advocacy, and pursue justice. Speak the truth to a higher power, even when it seems like change can never happen. Because if nobody speaks out, it never will. Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof.