By, Rabbi Joshua Franklin, Faculty
צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף Justice Justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20)
These words of Torah have been the battle cry for those who seek social justice and human rights. They have also been a core text through which Crane Lake Camp has examined our weekly value of צֶדֶק, Tzedek, justice. The rabbis point out that the word צֶדֶק (tzedek) is repeated in order to teach us that there are two forms of justice that we ought pursue, both being valuable. Jewish justice, they teach, can be pursued both legally, and through acts of compassion. In both cases, we seek to restore balance to the scales of an unfairly weighted world. Our Crane Lake community has been exploring how we can pursue justice at camp. While pursuing legal justice might fall beyond the scope of our camp’s expertise, campers have been discovering that they can enact justice through acts of compassion.
It is no accident that the word for justice צֶדֶק (tzedek), and charity, צְדָקָה, Tzedakah, sound similar. One of the ways that we carry out justice in this world is to balance the scales of wealth through tzedakah. My colleague Rabbi Cassi Kail, shared a story during Tefilah this week to highlight how a simple act of giving (tzedakah) brings tzedek (justice). She recalled:
While I was a student at Hebrew Union College in New York, I was a regular volunteer at the HUC Soup Kitchen. Each week, rabbinical students, local volunteers, and synagogue groups host neighborhoods residents––who we call guests––for a dinner, entertainment, and legal services. One chilly winter evening, I saw a 5th grade boy notice that one of the soup kitchen guests, a young girl, was covered only by a thin tee shirt. For a second, the Jewish boy was shocked by the mere absurdity of the girl’sclothing. Then I saw something incredible. The boy took off his own sweatshirt, and gave it to the young girl. It was not just tzedakah with a sweatshirt; that boy brought justice to a cruel and cold world.
Rabbi Cassi’s story reminds us all that even small acts can bring justice to the world. Every camper has the ability to pursue justice here at camp.
This week, Mini Maccabiah has taken over camp. Themed based upon Star Wars, each camper has been divided into teams––Blue R2D2, Red Rey, Green Yoda, and Yellow Chewbacca. Whenever there is an imbalance in the Force of Justice, campers have proven that small acts of compassion can restore balance. I watched campers on the basketball court apologize to players on the opposing team after an accidental foul; I witnessed campers comfort teammates who made mistakes on the field; and I heard campers cheer on opposing teams after a victory. These things may seem small, but they collectively impact the Force. When everyone lives the value of צֶדֶק, tzedek, justice, every camper wins.
One camp unit has even ventured to bring justice beyond camp’s red gates. Upper Bonim, Grade 6, worked this week to collect money for three organizations that they believe are pursuing important acts of justice. Inspired by the notion that every human being deserves water, one group raised money for Water for South Sudan. This organization drills water wells in South Sudan to bring clean fresh water to tens of thousands of South Sudanese. Another group, compelled to end the injustices of bullying, raised money for Everything Starts with 1. This organization educates different communities around the country about the epidemic of bullying. And lastly, one group decided to tackle environmental justice, raising money for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which innovates solutions to protect the environment, and all that lives within it.
When I think of the value of justice, I’m generally reminded of the comic book series, The Justice League, in which the world’s most powerful superheroes––Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash––team up to fight for justice. With their combined strength, speed, wisdom, and ingenuity, they battle super villains, the purveyors of injustice. Yet despite their super abilities, they overlook an important lesson that Crane Lake campers know well. Every person has the ability to tip the scales of justice, not just a select group. Our most clear avenue in the pursuit of צֶדֶק, tzedek, justice, is through small acts compassion that bring balance to the world.
Rabbi Josh Franklin is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. This is his second summer on faculty at Crane Lake.