Eternal Pursuit for Justice

March 15, 2024 / 5 Adar II 5784

The Israelites conclude in this week’s Parashah Pekudei the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Gd’s “dwelling place” during their desert wanderings. The detailed account of the Mishkan’s completion and the enumeration of its components may, at first glance, seem to be mere historical record. Yet, within these verses lies timeless messages such as this week’s words of wisdom: the essence of our physical and spiritual journey remains constant amidst the flux of our daily lives. Or, as the timeless English proverb states, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

My recent trip to Israel, amidst the sorrow of the 10/7 terror attacks in southern Israel and my participation in the Jewish Federation P2G Solidarity Mission in the Western Galilee, has underscored this message. As I bore witness to the resilience of communities standing firm against the horrors of terror in Israel, back home in San Antonio, the struggle against anti-Israel sentiment mirrored the ongoing battle between truth and falsehood, and justice and injustice. This juxtaposition serves as a stark reminder that, though the contexts may change, the underlying challenges remain the same.

Exodus 38:21 refers to the Mishkan as the “Testimony,” a term that encapsulates its role as a perpetual witness to the covenant between Gd and the Israelites. This concept of testimony resonates profoundly with our current struggles. Just as the Mishkan served as a physical manifestation of faith and community in the face of wandering and uncertainty, so too must we stand firm in our convictions, providing a testament to truth and justice amidst the turbulence of modern misinformation and hostility.

Last week, leading into International Women’s Day, San Antonio Councilwoman Teri Castillo of District 5 decided to use her bully pulpit to call for a ceasefire on behalf of the women and girls of Gaza. She not only consciously chose not to call for peace, but rather for a “ceasefire,” seemingly hoping for another 10/7 against Israeli civilians once Hamas has restocked its armories, Councilwoman Castillo also chose to make an even louder statement by omission, avoiding the unspeakable acts of rape and sexual crimes committed by Hamas against Israeli women and children, including the pain and suffering of the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and all the other women whose lives have been paused in a cycle of horror while their loved ones remain hostage in the tunnels under Gaza.

Let me be clear, Councilwoman Castillo, your words are racist and bigoted, and you have shown your true colors to those of us living right here in San Antonio, the city and citizens whom you claim to care about.

Our sages taught us the importance of seeking out justice and truth, guided by the principle of “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“justice, justice shall you pursue”) (Deuteronomy 16:20). This directive is not merely a call to action; it is an imperative to actively engage in the world, ensuring that our pursuit of justice is relentless and unwavering. As Rabbi Tarfon reminds us, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:21).

Coincidentally, we also conclude the Book of Exodus with Parashah Pekudei this week, when we traditionally affirm our commitment to strength and solidarity with the traditional supplemental phrase following the concluding words of the Torah reading, “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek” (“be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened”). This affirmation is not only a declaration of the completion of a book of the Torah; it is a communal pledge to draw strength from our shared narratives and to bolster one another in the pursuit of a more just and righteous world.

In light of the enduring struggles for truth and justice, both in Israel and here at home in San Antonio, let us renew our commitment to these ideals. Let us stand in solidarity with those who seek peace and security, challenge falsehoods with facts, and embrace the principle of pursuing justice as our guiding light. Together, may we be strengthened in our resolve to build a future marked by understanding, compassion, and enduring peace. Because we are…


Shabbat Shalom.