As many Jews around the world prepare for the holiday marking the New Year, I wondered what this period of introspection, atonement and forgiveness said to me as a progressive seeking tzedek – justice. I found that Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, a leading Jewish thinker of the past century, taught regarding Rosh Hashanah: “A person’s task is to perfect both himself and the nation. God judges the consequences of a person’s actions for society and the world—not just their impact on the individual….With this perspective in mind, one should prepare for the judgment of Rosh Hashanah by attempting to aid one’s community achieve growth and completion. One should seek to determine the weaknesses of her society and to discover how she can mitigate them.”
Rav Solevechik wrote that Rosh Hashanah is a time to look externally, to atone not just for actions, but also for inactions—to examine relationships with the community and larger world. It is not simply enough to acknowledge the failures and weaknesses in our world, nor to treat the effects – at this time of turning we need to address the ways that we can respond, to discern what each one of us can do to address society’s faults, what we can do to impact the direction of things.
I found, in my reading, an interesting aspect of the Jewish practice of tzedakah (charity, but tied to the notion of tzedek, justice) is that everyone is equally obligated; even the poor must give tzedakah. Or, stated differently, we each have an obligation to give to create the kind of change that will make this a just world; we are all asked to be philanthropists in support of justice.
I read that, if tzedakah ameliorates the discrepancies of wealth in society, then tzedek or justice seeks to address the root causes of those discrepancies. Jewish law instructs “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof: Justice, Justice, you should pursue.”
More broadly interpreted, tzedek has come to mean the addressing of root structures of oppression and fixing societal structures so that they are more accountable and equitable. Indeed this is the work of the many organizations that the Funding Exchange and the FEX Network support with our Change, Not Charity approach.
So, with the guidance of this Jewish tradition, as we approach this fall, this season of new beginnings, of renewal, we can build a vision for social change that balances the needs of today with the hopes for tomorrow, that enables us to bring our whole selves– our wallets, our hands, our voices our hearts, and our souls in the pursuit of righteousness and justice.
May we seek well and be blessed to know a world changed, reaching toward perfection. And to those who observe this holy day, Shana Tova Umetukah — May we all have a good and sweet year.
Barbara Heisler, Executive Director