by Rabbi Gray Myrseth
This past Shabbat morning, I had the honor of addressing our community with a few words of Torah. I wanted to share a few excerpts from my davar, with the hope that we will enter this new year with a renewed capacity to nurture justice and liberation in all its forms.
Deuteronomy 16:18 reads: You shall set up shoftim—judges—and shotrim—scribes—for each and every tribe, in all your gates, which God, your God, is giving you. And they will judge the people with just judgement. The medieval commentator Rashi reads “gates” as “cities,” reminding us that these entry and exit points were also places of public gathering, where courts proceedings took place. God wants courts in every city, making the machinery of judgement local and small scale.
It seems possible to me that the Torah is reminding us that it is difficult to create true, transformative justice outside of the context of a relationship. This verse asks us to recognize that we cannot truly work for a more just world without attending to the relationships we build in our quest for liberation. It invites us—whenever possible—to move closer to those we call out. Because when conflict arises within the gates of a city we share, calling out can be transformed to calling in. Calling into relationship, into understanding, into a kind of disagreement that doesn’t shame or alienate.
Turning judgmental distance into actual, intimate justice is hard work. The former can happen from a safe and unmoved distance. The latter can only happen up close. It’s often messy. Ok, not often—always. And yet we are called to pursue it. To chase it even when it runs away or slips between our fingers. To chase it, knowing that in the process of pursuing real justice, each of us is likely to be transformed.
Standing between the towering gates of the High Holy Days, we are called upon to witness, to cry out, and to resist. To witness the cries of refugees, seeking a place of safety. To witness cries of all those endangered by racism, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and anti-Jewish oppression. To stand with our allies among every group being targeted by the current administration and by the legacy of white supremacy upon which this country has been built.
This is a time of pain and of fear, yes, but also of possibility. This Elul, as we stand in the narrow place between the gates of the year, what kind of teshuvah, what kind of turning around and transformation can we foster?
In the new year, may we all act justly, regardless of which side of the beit din, or court, we find ourselves on. May we have the courage to hold each other accountable—with love and clarity. May we call to each other and to the divinity within every person to let those gates of righteousness swing a little wider. May we praise the Source of Life by working to bring more humanity and justice into the world.