September 2, 2011

Before the storm, I had the pleasure of going with the Federation 20s and 30s group to see the film “Sarah’s Key.”  As with most films, this film had its moments of greatness in which I was swept away with the story and its moments where I wish they would have given me a little bit more of the story line.  This is a film I would highly recommend.

What made the film so powerful to me was the story it told.  The characters are fictional, but the film opens up the eyes of the world to the way the French treated the Jews during World War II and not just the Germans.  It is imperative for us to understand just how horrifying the Holocaust truly was no matter where someone lived in Europe.

At the end of the film, the narrator and main character gives us, the viewer, and the moral of the film: we must continue to tell the stories of those who were mistreated in the Holocaust.  It is only through us that justice will prevail and that the horrors of the Holocaust will not be repeated.

I found this moral apropos considering the well known lines in our Torah reading this week, Parashat Shoftim.  While our Torah is ageless and boundless, some portions are etched in my psyche more than others.  In this week’s parasha in Devarim, Deuteronomy 16:20 we hear, ‫צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף‬

“Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”  In the film “Sarah’s Key” we are likewise admonished to pursue justice—a modern retelling of this Biblical imperative.

The question is asked by most commentators on our verse, why is the word “justice” repeated?  Rambam, Maimonides, from 14th century Spain says that “One should pursue justice (only through) righteousness.  It is not enough to seek righteousness; it must be done through honest means; the Torah does not condone the pursuit of a holy end through improper means.”  Simcha Bunem, a Hasidic Leader in Poland (1765-1827) said:  This command also means to “pursue justice justly,” for just goals can never be achieved by unjust means; the worthiest of goals will be rendered less worthy if we have to compromise justice to achieve it.  Abraham Joshua Heschel, a mid-20th century Conservative philosopher and teacher said that the term ‘pursue’ carries strong connotations of effort, eagerness.  This implies more than merely respecting or following justice.  We must actively pursue it.

All three of these esteemed commentators amplify the message we must learn from this week’s well known verse.  We need to do more in our lives to actively pursue justice in our world today.  We constantly speak about wanting to change the world we live in, but how often do we actually pick up the phone (or write) and attempt to communicate with a politician, go to a soup kitchen, help in letting the media know what is really happening in Israel, or help with the efforts in a tragic place like Darfur?  We must attempt to accomplish what the film “Sarah’s Key” is asking of us: to continue the story of our people, both past, present, and future, by pursuing justice in a just matter and done with righteousness.  Only when we take the time to be activists, to pursue justice, will we be able to say that we are continuing to tell the story of our people and changing what could not have been changed in the past.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham