It was a great experience for me to feel the energy of our students as they immersed in all the history on display in Washington, and as they engaged in the present challenges facing our society. I enjoyed it as much – and learned as much – as the students did.
As Americans, we sometimes have a cynical view of Washington. We associate the city and our federal government with corruption, special interests and crass political maneuvering. In truth, there is plenty of all that in Washington. But, there is also something else. We tend to forget that most people who go to Washington – people of all political perspectives and philosophies – go because they want to make the world a better place. Most are not motivated just by the love of power – they want to make a difference and to build a better society with better laws and a more accountable and responsive government. That is also a part of the truth of Washington, D.C.
We, as Jews, honor and sanctify the call to build better government. The traditional weekday T'filah includes a blessing that asks God to bless our society with leaders who will rule with justice. We ask that we be ruled by "kindness and compassion, and righteousness in judgment." In the Jewish imagination, good government is sacred. It is a sign of God's presence.
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, is known for its avalanche of laws – fifty-three of them, more than in any preceding Torah portion. This week's Torah portion teaches us laws concerning kidnapping, assault, theft, and the treatment of prisoners – all topics that are covered in our state and federal legal codes today. Near the end of the Torah portion, the Israelites affirm that they would hear and obey the laws.
Walking along the streets of Washington, last weekend, I thought about all the grand buildings and chambers where our laws are made today. I thought about how we, in our democratic society, venerate those places and see sanctity in maintaining their integrity. How very Jewish. We are the people of laws who recognize that good laws don't just make good societies. They bring us closer to the source and purpose of our existence.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Mishpatim: Laws, Judges and Chief Justice Moore
Shoftim: A Warning about Kings