Judaism’s Mission Statement
By Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
On November 26, 1936, Rav Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel delivered a lecture to a large gathering of rabbis in Jerusalem. Titled “The Seat of the Rabbinate,” Rav Uziel’s words were delivered as an introduction to that day’s elections for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of the Land of Israel. Speaking to rabbis who would potentially join him as part of the Land of Israel’s national rabbinic leadership, Rav Uziel articulated a vision for what he felt were the priorities of the rabbinate in the Yishuv in Erets Yisrael (which eventually became the modern-day State of Israel):
“When it comes to public and national matters, the issue of Mishpat (The Torah’s Civil Laws) is a weighty and important responsibility on a rabbi, for it is these matters that establish the path of life towards success or disaster, peace or dispute within our community. God thus commanded us: “Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zecharia 8:16).
Rav Uziel bases his understanding of the centrality of civil law in Judaism on God’s vision for Abraham and the Jewish people, as articulated in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayera. God articulates the “Mission Statement” of Abraham and the Jewish people:
“Now God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him?
For I have singled him out (chosen him), so that he will command his children and his descendants, to keep the way of God, to practice charity and justice…”
Based on this powerful statement, Rav Uziel said:
“The Torah’s extensive body of civil laws reflects the unique character of Judaism, whose glorious splendor is manifest through Tsdedakah (Charity) and Mishpat (Justice), which are the legacy of Judaism’s founding father Abraham, about whom God said: “I have singled him out so that he will command his children and his descendants, to keep the way of God, practicing Tsedakah (Charity) and Mishpat (Justice).”
Rav Uziel’s vision of a Mishpatim-centered society was inspired by a long and rich tradition dating all the way back to Abraham. The “unique character of Judaism,” says Rav Uziel, is expressed through our practicing tsdedakah (charity) and mishpat (justice), and Rav Uziel felt that the gatekeepers of tsedakah and mishpat would be Judaism’s spiritual leaders:
“As you approach the seat of the rabbinate that you will sit upon after your election, take to heart that the full domain of mishpat — including all of its problems & issues — has been placed in your hands, and it will be upon you — through trustworthiness, love honor and admiration — to bring the entire nation closer to the values of Jewish Civil Law. Mishpat, Tsedek and Din Emet L’Amito– justice, charity and the truthful execution of the law to its fullest extent of truth — serve as the foundations for the unity of our nation.”
What is a rabbi’s role in society? Are rabbis only concerned with the kashrut of pots and pans, or does the kashrut of business practices also matter? Is the rabbi exclusively a caretaker of prayers and rituals, or does he care about social justice issues? Does he see halakha exclusively in the realm of the kitchen, mikvah and synagogue, or does he also find halakhic expression in economic matters such as the high cost of living and fair pricing for housing, and social problems such as drug abuse and domestic violence?
“The Jewish people were singled out, or chosen, by God,” said Rav Uziel, “to help bring tsedakah and mishpat into the world, so that society will become a better place to live.”
As long as we live in a broken world, bringing tsedakah and mishpat – charity and justice – into the world remains the singularly greatest mission of the Jewish people.