“Do not keep silent.” (109:1)
Our Torah is a Torah of love and justice. In 1963, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel sent a telegram to President John F. Kennedy: “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 and synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice … The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
A leader cannot be silent. A leader must speak forcefully and unequivocally when the situation demands.
“Rise up, judge of the earth.” (94:2)
To call upon God to judge and punish the guilt and exonerate the innocent is not to abrogate our responsibility to support a just society. However, the teaching from Pirke Avot (1:6), “Judge every person with the assumption of merit,” the Rabbinic equivalent of of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” ought to rein in our zeal to condemn and punish. When you are angry because you think someone perpetrated an injustice against you, imagine yourself in their place before judging them (Pirke Avot 2:4). Ask yourself: might you be misreading their intent or lack thereof? Might they be distracted by a stressful situation unknown to you?
“May Adonai grant strength to God’s people;
may Adonai bless God’s people with peace.” (29:11)
Strength and peace — These two concepts are rooted in the classic military theory of preventing war (or winning war) through projecting power. No one dares to attack the strong nation, because the weaker nation would face virtually certain defeat. We hope the strongest nation uses its leadership and power for kind and loving purposes. Otherwise, when the powerful begin exercising power for their own enrichment, those around them join together to take down the tyrant. May we be granted the strength to achieve peace and the wisdom to use it for just purposes.
“Flee, bird to your mountain.” (11:1)
Some birds, like geese, run away when perceived danger approaches. Some, like wild turkeys, will stand in the middle of a road oblivious to the danger posed by approaching cars. Most birds will fly away when a person or a vehicle gets too close. They typically retreat to a place high above the ground where they feel safe. We, however, ought to cultivate the skill of evaluating the potential threat in order to gauge our ability to stand up against it. We, unlike birds, are charged to stand up for justice.