This article was first published in the BIJ Bulletin, May-June 2010 / Iyar-Sivan 5770.
As we approached Pesach this year and swallowed our remaining crumbs of hametz, we witnessed US history in the making. On March 23, 2010 voices of celebration were heard across our nation as President Barack Obama signed the new healthcare legislation into law. Despite acts of violence perpetrated by misguided individuals against courageous legislators – healthcare reform and social justice advocates recognized and rejoiced in the powerful impact that this historic legislation would have on our lives as Americans. It was a shehecheyanu moment.
The purpose of the rule of law, whether civil or religious, is to build a society where corruption, violence, greed and self interest are kept in check and compassion, human dignity, duty and justice can prevail. When ‘the enemy of the perfect is the good,’ only clear vision and decisive action by committed leaders will effect necessary legal change in society.
According to Midrash on the festival of Shavuot when the Sacred Law (Torah) was offered to the Israelites at the foot of Sinai, they did not first probe and pick at its faults. Rather they accepted this gift as a sacred covenant. Now a free people this would replace the rule of tyranny under which they had lived for four centuries as slaves in Mitzrayim. Over the millennia as the Jewish community lived the laws of Torah into reality, it has been interpreted and shaped for practical application to daily, communal life. And it continues to evolve, as will our new healthcare legislation.
The mitzvah of protecting the stranger, the orphan and the widow – ger, yitom v’almanah – is repeated over and over ad nauseum in Torah. Our ancestors obviously knew that a just society is measured by the degree to which it protects its most vulnerable citizens. Hence, they selected of the Book of Ruth, a visionary narrative that demonstrates the highest values of Torah in action, as the central text Shavuot. As we study Torah and Megilat Ruth this Shavuot let us commit to our part in building a more just society.