Our world is on fire.

Injustice, all encompassing, overwhelming.
I can see it.
I can hear cries.
I can smell blood, I can taste poison.

And I try to speak. But what do I say?

Justice justice you shall pursue – צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף
This famous line comes from parashat shoftim, a significant parasha where Moshe reviews the justice system for the Israelites.

In the establishment of a fair justice system, Moshe commands the Jewish people:

 “שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך”
 “Judges and officers you shall appoint for you in all your cities.” (16:18).

This line raises the question regarding the word “lecha – for you” which appears to be superfluous. The Torah indicates it is necessary to reiterate that while we must appoint judges for all cities, we must also appoint judges “lecha – for yourself”.

Thus, we need to appoint ourselves as our own shofet, our own judge, analysing our behaviour, reflecting on our morals and pursuing our own justice. As the Torah teaches, this is done through the seven openings of a person’s face, seeing with our eyes, hearing with our ears, smelling with our nostrils and speaking with our mouth.

One of Gandhi’s famous proverbs affirms that ‘If you want to change the world, start with yourself.’ Once we appoint ourselves as our own judges and establish our values and priorities, we must act by them, pursuing justice by becoming critics of our world.

In establishing the justice system, Moshe also commands that “you shall not deviate from the word that the judges of the Jewish courts will tell you, right or left.”

Rashi comments that this means we must obey the decisions of the courts, even if they are telling you that right is left and left is right.

Whilst maybe when Moshe spoke, faith could be placed in the righteousness of leaders, today, we cannot blindly accept their rulings. We cannot allow our understanding to be skewed such that right becomes left and left becomes right. We must actively learn and actively listen to advocate for truth, and be critical judges of both the world and of our leaders, harnessing the power that we possess as privileged young people.

This is activism: using our skills and privilege to advocate for social and political change.

Emma Gonzalez is a 19 year old activist. As a Parkland shooting survivor, she was one of the leaders of the ‘March for Our Lives’ movement that began shortly after the devastating shooting in February this year. This led to the single largest protest against gun violence in history, with millions present.

Emma is 19 years old.

Greta Thunberg is a 16 year old activist and the founder of the Youth Strike for Climate movement. She has spoken in front of international leaders and they listen to what she has to say.

Greta is only 16 years old.

In the words of Greta: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

These young individuals pursue justice and have appointed themselves judges through the seven openings of their faces.

They are critics, they know their right from their left and their activism is changing the world. We can all be our own judges. We must follow.

Our world is on fire.

So use your eyes to see the flames burning, hear the crackling roar with your ears, smell the pungent smoke and when you taste the bitter dust, speak.

Speak words of truth, speak words of activism, speak words of justice. Use your privilege to extinguish the flames and rebuild our home.
(This was originally a dvar torah delivered at GBH shul on Friday 6 Sep 2019)
Article by Author/s
Zoe Singer
Zoe Singer is a Year 12 student at Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne.
Mia Komesaroff
Mia Komesaroff is a year 12 student at Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne.

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