Monday, February 4, 2013


Here Comes The Judge

Parashat Mishpatim teaches us that our society cannot function without laws, judges, and courts of justice

Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18, Shabbat Sh’kalim 

At its deepest core, America prides itself on the rule of law--the insistence that no individual, however wealthy, influential, popular or powerful, is superior to the rules which govern human conduct. Above any individual--even the President of the United States--is a body of laws that translate general principles into legal guidelines for harmonious living.

The Case in America That priority was not always the case in America. The West, with its frontier ethic, the South with its racial hatred, and the Northeast with its violence against labor unions often acted against this general commitment to the rule of law. As great a president as Andrew Jackson was, when told of a decision of the Supreme Court that he opposed, responded, "They've made their decision, now let them get their own troops to enforce it!"

In our own age as well, we are accustomed to various presidents claiming immunity from various laws because of their high office. For all the times that Americans don't live up to the principle of law, that ideal still remains a potent force for justice and equality in our society.

That principle allowed the Reverend Martin Luther King to fight the powerful status quo of the South and of Chicago. It allowed student protesters to publicize unpopular views, and it allowed the women's movement and the environmentalists to be able to oppose injustice in our courts. The principle that the law is supreme is a direct inheritance from our biblical heritage.

The Torah is a Law Book The Torah itself is, in part, a book of law, presenting the Jewish conviction that the will of God is translated into action through law. By using the metaphor of law to frame Jewish religious obligations, our tradition lifts goodness beyond the flimsy level of preference or mood, establishing the hatred of evil and the pursuit of righteousness as a mandate at all times and places.

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