Saving Justice – Rabbi A. J. Heschel

Saving Justice – Rabbi A. J. Heschel

Saving Justice – Rabbi A. J. Heschel.

Mishpat (mish-pawt) = Hebrew word for “saving justice;” treating people equitably and fairly; giving others their human rights in freedom; advocating for what is properly due to others as fellow human beings made in the image of God; wisely defending others who are being treated unfairly, including the powerless, the vulnerable, and those who are unable to defend themselves; exercising the righteous judgments that reflect the character of God. “Dispense true justice, and practice kindness and compassi0n each to one another; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

Tsaddiyq (tsad-deek) = Hebrew word rooted in the word for righteousness; a person who is upright, just, godly, in right standing with God; who lives according to God’s standards; a title in Judaism given to people who are especially outstanding in piety, holiness and righteousness; the “tzaddik” has been described as someone who oozes goodness, who takes joy in justice, who loves to blamelessly puts things right. A righteous person is one who lives a life pleasing to God. “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10). 

Dikaios = the Greek word for both justice and righteousness, can be translated as righteous, just, fair, blameless, innocent, uprightness, heart that is right with God. “For I tell you that unless your uprightness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of Torah, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20).

A Rabbi Looks at Faith and Justice.

(a note from Steve Larson, author of this article). I have been drawn to social activism for most of my life, especially as I started to see things more widely in the world in college. I have focused on racial reconciliation, civil rights, and pro-life activities for the most part. Rabbi Heschel has meant a lot to us (Sheri and me) through the years. A big part of our admiration for him is his intense yearning for social justice during the civil rights era in the 60’s. I totally respect any clergy person who backs up his words with action. Here are some of my favorite quotes by Rabbi Heschel.

Abraham Joshua Heschel died in 1972, an internationally revered rabbi, scholar, author, theologian, and social activist. His last post was as a professor of Ethics at Jewish Theological Seminary. He was the author of many classics of modern theology, including The SabbathMan Is Not Alone, and God In Search of Man. Born in Warsaw, Poland, he was able to escape Poland just weeks before the Nazi invasion. He then endured the murder of his mother, sisters and families, and many other friends and relatives. He was renowned around the world for his biblical faith and his civil rights activism in the 1960’s.

Excerpt from his telegram to President John F. Kennedy, June 16, 1963:  “Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement, not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church, synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare a state of moral emergency. The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”

“I felt my legs were praying. I felt a sense of the Holy in what I was doing.” His words after participating in the civil rights march in Selma in 1965, where he walked arm-in-arm with Dr. King.

“What is the mission of man? To be a reminder of God. As God is compassionate, let man be compassionate. As God strives for meaning and justice, let man strive for meaning and justice. If we are created in the image of God, each human being should be a reminder of God’s presence.”

“Religion cannot coexist with racism. Racism is satanism, unmitigated evil. You cannot worship God and at the same time look at a man as if he was a horse.”

“Man is not alone in his concern for justice. God is with him. Therefore we must continue to fight to the last breath.”

“Prejudice is a poison. As a person committed to biblical faith, I would say what keeps humanity alive is the certainty that we have a Father. God is either the Father of all men or of no man. And the idea of judging a person in terms of black or brown or white is an eye disease.”

“God seems to be a non-religious person, because, if you read the words of God in the Bible, He always mixes in politics and social issues. Indeed, the prophets mixed into social-political issues.”

“God identifies Himself with the misery of man. I can help God by reducing human suffering, human anguish, and human misery. In aiding a creature, he is helping the Creator. In succoring the poor, he is taking care of something that concerns God. In admiring the good, he is revering the Spirit of God. ”

Heschel’s close friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to Heschel as “as truly great prophet.” In return, Rabbi Heschel said “Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America.”

(All quotes are taken from a book of Heschel’s essays entitled Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, 1996, edited by his daughter Susannah Heschel).