Erev Tish’a B’Av 5776
I am a lawyer, a public defender. We have a temple in Washington, D.C. Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, one is dwarfed by the towering marble façade. It proclaims: “Equal Justice Under Law.” It is majestic. I wish it were true. Although this temple still stands, we know that the promise of equal justice under law, a promise born in Philadelphia, is unfulfilled.
When we are, as on most days, at home, we look around our neighborhood, our city, our country, and we see that we have failed to create a society that lives up to our constitutional ideals. Our failures to ensure equal justice are staggering. We may not mourn those ideals in the same way we mourn the destructions of Jerusalem, perhaps because our communal failures to protect our ideals are not as identifiable as those moments of destruction, dates marked on the calendar. But the violence, the loss of life, and the ruptures in sacred human community are no less real; and for some of us, they are far more immediate.
This summer, for me, those ruptures feel wider and more urgent than ever: our country’s legacy of slavery and racial violence; our adoption of mass incarceration as a substitute for meaningful solutions to homelessness, education funding, unemployment, mental illness, and substance abuse; and the disproportionate impact on the poor of chronic disease, inadequate schools, gun violence and environmental contamination.
I was invited to share tonight some thoughts about how we might respond to the overwhelming tragedies and trauma we find all around us, here in our beloved home. I’ve been exploring this in my own work, because as someone who came to her career before she came to Judaism, I’ve been able to observe my view shift as I begin to see from a Jewish perspective. This is an evolving project. Thank you for letting me attempt to sort it out here.
The Torah teaches us, over and over, that we shall not wrong a stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. We are taught from the outset that God brought us forth from Egypt, from bondage. This identification of our own story of redemption with the oppression of strangers among us speaks directly to my work as a public defender. I try to release people from bondage. It doesn’t even require a metaphor.
The rest of Maria's power teaching is posted here.