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A prayer for justice and compassion

More than 380,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Almost 2,000,000 have perished worldwide. The numbers are simply staggering.

We mourn and are brokenhearted by what has been lost.

These past few weeks have been challenging on other levels, as well. We are witnessing an attack on our democracy and our government, incited by the president himself, a man who swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution.

During this time of isolation and loss, of division and even sedition, it’s natural to feel a sense of despair, confusion and anger.

At this difficult moment, I’m reminded of an almost 2,000-year-old text from Avodah Zarah in the Talmud that can give us guidance.

A great sage, Rav, imagines that God spends part of each day judging the world. All of our deeds and all of our actions, what we say and what don’t say: God judges. As God begins examining our deeds, God sits on a special throne, called Kisei HaDin, the Throne of Judgment. When God sees how wicked we are, God wants to destroy us. But at that moment, God rises up, and moves to a second throne: Kisei HaRachamim, the Throne of Compassion.

Because of God’s mercy, we are given another chance.

Here’s a prayer for this Shabbat: May we, like God, find that balance between judgment and compassion.

Those who spread falsehoods, those who incite others to violence, those who willfully try to pervert our democracy — they should be held accountable, from the president to ordinary citizens who commit acts of lawlessness and treason. This is what is demanded by Kisei HaDin, the throne of judgment.

Kisei HaRachamim asks us to hold onto compassion as we seek to understand those with whom we might disagree politically. It asks us to affirm their humanity — created in God’s image.

Without justice, our rabbis teach, there can be no mercy. And without mercy, there can be no justice.

So, on this Shabbat especially, let’s find the capacity to mourn what we have lost. Let’s dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of justice, especially at this moment when truth and democracy are under attack.

And let’s keep our hearts open with compassion and empathy as we commit ourselves, on a national level, to holding on to our fragile union and, on a local, personal level, to remaining connected to our community, loving each other despite and maybe even because of our differences.

Yoshi Zweiback is the senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, Calif. He can be reached at rabbiyoshi@wisela.org.

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