We love when members of the AJWS family are called upon to share their wisdom in unexpected places. Earlier today, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, 2009-2010 Kol Tzedek Fellow and rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Waterville, Maine, delivered the benediction for Maine’s State Legislature. She was kind enough to post about her experience on AJWS’s Facebook page and wrote: “I want to acknowledge American Jewish World Service for providing me with the perfect text to shape my benediction.”
Here are the remarks Isaacs delivered:
Politics is indeed a holy vocation, if and when we choose to make it so. You are the custodians of our great state, and serve a unique role: being the wards of Maine’s most vulnerable. The power to provide care is one of the most beautiful and outstanding abilities that a leader can assume. In order to exercise this power in the Godliest way, one must challenge herself to not only be just, but to also be righteous.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Holocaust survivor and civil rights pioneer, draws important distinctions between justice and righteousness:
“Righteousness goes beyond justice. Justice is strict and exact, giving each person his due. Righteousness implies benevolence, kindness, generosity. Justice is a form, a state of equilibrium; righteousness has a substantive associated meaning. Justice may be legal; righteousness is associated with a burning compassion for the oppressed.
Justice dies when dehumanized, no matter how exactly it may be exercised. Justice dies when deified, for beyond all justice is God’s compassion. The logic of justice may seem impersonal, yet the concern for justice is an act of love.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001, p. 200-201)
All of the power, wealth, and control that we possess are gifts from the Almighty. These gifts are grace made manifest. In this legislative session, may you serve justly and righteously, wisely and compassionately, distributing our God-given gifts with a “burning compassion for the oppressed.” May you observe the Biblical commandments of caring for the most vulnerable; providing what is necessary for healing, learning, and prospering.
As you undertake this sacred work, may you be inspired and guided by two of the most important words in the Bible “Hazak v’amatz” Be strong and courageous. May you all be blessed abundantly with God’s love and might in governing this great state.
And let us say, Amen.