Griffin Thompson - 8/21/2020
First and foremost, I would like to welcome both new and returning students to Hillel. We’re happy to have you guys here. My name is Griffin Thompson, I’m a sophomore at the college and I’m from Denver, CO.
Anyways, so today it’s my job to give a dvar torah on this week’s torah portion, which is titled Shoftim, sorry my accent is off, it’s been a while since my Bar Mitzvah. Shoftim, when translated from Hebrew, means judges in English, so it’s fitting that this passage discusses things like justice, the judicial system, and righteousness. The portion discusses concepts such as the thorough investigation of crimes, certain punishments criminals must face, the rules to engage in war, among many other things. Yet it was the beginning of the reading that stood out to me the most. Moses, in the first portion, tells the people of Israel “you shall set up judges… and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgement.” Let’s focus on the last part of the sentence, “they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgement.” I am a big fan of defining words, so there’s less misunderstanding. So, Merriam-Webster defines righteous as acting in accord with divine or moral law. And given that the rest of the portion discusses certain crimes and punishments, we have a somewhat clear outline of what it means to pass righteous law in accord with divine desires. Since these divine desires are seen in the rest of the passage, I’m most curious, and I hope you guys are too, about the concept of righteousness in accordance with morality, and how it’s possible to pass righteous judgement even when we have different morals.
The story of the three little pigs…
Now while on the surface, this story uncovers the importance of building homes and other structures with sturdy materials, and focuses a lot of energy on the pigs, I want us to focus on the big bad wolf. Now this wolf, being a wild animal with an outstanding lung strength, is hungry and needs to eat. Since pigs are natural prey, it’s logical that the wolf would attempt to eat them. Yet, let’s go even more abstract, if we were a judge in the kingdom of Israel (and we’re going real abstract here, since pork isn’t kosher) or just the modern world and that the criminal case of a big bad wolf against three little pigs came to our courtroom. It would be up to us to judge the case, and among other things, given the name of the Big Bad wolf, we would most likely side with the three little pigs. Now, would this judgement be righteous? We acted in accord with our morality, yet according to the wolf, whose values don’t necessarily line up with ours, the judgement would be unfair and untrue. Basically what I’m getting at, is that the concept of righteous judgement is hard for us to always practice, particularly when morals clash.
Now, this issue isn’t just confined to the realm of little pigs and wolves, but extends to our own world and reality. The concept of justice, and in particular, righteous decision-making has been at the forefront of our concerns for a long time, yet, given all of the ongoing circumstances, there has never been a better time to analyze and critique our history of “righteous choices.” Fromthe Black Lives Matter movement to the global pandemic to our own concerns surrounding the future of our time at Emory, righteous judgement and decision-making has never been more integral than it has now.
Take a hero of the Civil Rights, former Representative John Lewis, who put his life on the line for a cause that although lined up with his morals, was not viewed as righteous by certain populations, people in power, and by the history of the U.S.. So, he did the only thing he could do, he caused trouble, good trouble, good, righteous trouble. And that good trouble, moved people around the nation and the world to analyze their own morals and values and most importantly, criticize them. Through this criticism, came impressive reforms and the altering of ethics. In essence, I’m saying that some of our choices we have made in the past, that we once labelled as “righteous,” are no longer so, and that trend of analyzing decisions through the lens of the present will continue into the future. It’s important to understand that some decisions we make now and view as righteous and the proper choice, will be looked back at with a different perspective and see that we were wrong. This isn’t something that we can change, but rather something we must accept and appreciate.
But, in order to appreciate, we must ensure that we focus our future on making more righteous and better choices. There comes a time, and it is most certainly now, that rather than looking outward with blame, mistrust, anger, we must look at ourselves, and criticize our own decisions, and look towards the future and pledge to do better, to be more righteous. That time, where we must look within ourselves for ways to better our society, has arrived. Questions like “how can we address the inequities arising from this pandemic” or “how can the Jewish community assist in combating racism across the world.” Or even “should I hang out with my friends tonight in a room” (Who knew) have become questions that require the best and most righteous decision-making and judgement that we have, and the only way to ensure that our choices are the best choices that we can make, is analyzing our own decisions.
The cool thing is, that since the torah commands judges to make righteous rulings, and since it is only natural that humans judge, and, by definition, making us judges, we therefore, are commanded by the torah to pass righteous decisions. It’s important to understand that before we can pass righteous judgement we must first pass judgement on ourselves and ensure that we are following our own code of morals, and that they are “good” morals. We’ve made mistakes in the past and will in the future, but we must look at where our judgement arise from before we can judge others. It’s hard to know if the judgements we make are righteous, and the only consolation we get is the satisfaction that we know we worked hard on making the “ righteous” decision. So, if I could leave you with any tips, be sure to ask questions, attempt to understand other perspectives, that way, you can ensure that the judgement and choices you make, are what the torah deems as righteous.