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Right of Way

Friday, 21 August, 2020 - 8:30 am

Driving along the back roads of Idaho can at times be challenging. I recently found myself on a windy dirt road with little room for error. Suddenly, a car appeared from the opposite direction and we both came to a sudden halt. After a quick stare-down, I realized that there was only room for one car at a time and one of us would have to budge. So I reversed and went slightly off road to allow the other car to pass.

Who had the right of way I mused?

Sometimes, life is not so crystal clear. The moral choices with which we are faced can be murky at times. Without a strong moral compass, we can wander endlessly. But even with a solid guide we can be stuck, frozen in a moment of indecision.

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This week’s Torah portion of Shoftim includes the famous words, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Much ink has been spilled on explaining the double expression of justice. One Chassidic interpretation by the famed Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa caught my attention. He interprets the verse as follows:

At times we are compelled to pursue justice at all costs. We may even ultimately justify using unjust means for a just end. This he explained is the warning of the Torah: We must always remember to utilize justice even in the endeavor of implementing justice.

We live in times when many people scream at the top of their lungs that they are correct. Others are shouting the exact opposite, again at the top of their lungs.

Figuring out who’s correct might be important. But, according to our holy Torah, it’s no less important to do what’s right in order to arrive at what’s right.

Just because I am right does not mean that I can use any and all methods to achieve my goal.

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Today marks the onset of the month of Elul. It is a time of introspection and self-examination. A time of preparation for the new year and the High Holy Days. Introspection means being honest with oneself about our virtues and weaknesses; our successes and shortcomings. Since, this is a private process, there’s no need to put on a show or fool anybody. It’s just between me and G-d. And, He already knows me better than I know myself. It’s for my own benefit to be brutally honest.

The trap I might fall into is thinking that I have strong values and laudable objectives. I might assume that if I’m on the correct trajectory, all I need to do is plod ahead.

This week’s parsha – carefully designed to coincide with Elul – reminds me that the process and the journey are just as important. Instead of only looking at where I am and where I need to be, it’s also time to look at the method employed to help me arrive at my destination. Will the tools of my journey match the lofty status of my target? Am I hurting others in my quest for self-improvement? Am I sacrificing my relationship with G-d in order to improve my family life?

When on a mission for justice, utilize justice to get there.

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