Justice and Mercy

June 21, 2018

RabbiWQAidzerheadshot-206x259There’s a rabbinic teaching that God has two thrones: a Throne of Justice and a Throne of Mercy. From the first, God dispenses strict judgments of our actions. From the second, God allows some leniency for our misdeeds. On the High Holy Days, we implore God to move from the Throne of Justice to the Throne of Mercy in considering our fates. We need both justice and mercy in our lives. We need order and fairness, but we also need kindheartedness and empathy.

There is no amount of justice in the world that makes it proper or right to separate immigrant children from their parents under the horrendous conditions that we have seen this past week at the southern border of the United States. We might disagree over the best way to revamp our immigration system and have different political approaches to the issue. But our sense of mercy must have a role, and not just strict justice. There are ways of addressing the plight of those who wish to enter our country that allow for order and fairness as well as kindheartedness and empathy, without resorting to cruelty and harm.

Among the more distressing aspects of this situation are the reports that some officials viewed this policy, in part, as a bargaining chip or as leverage in political maneuvering. It is wantonly immoral to use a human being in this way, let alone children. Created in the image of God, each of us has inherent worth and dignity. None of us should be subjected to malicious gamesmanship or as pawns to score political points. It is a desecration of God’s likeness to do so.

Even as I write this, the situation continues to unfold. New changes may undo some of the worst effects of the policy put in place in recent months that led to these circumstances. But there is much to be done to rectify the situation, to ameliorate the harm done, and to make sure that our country abides by its values. Justice and mercy must together hold sway over our civic life. If God can find the way to balance between the two, can we strive for any less?

For more information on Reform Judaism’s response to the current situation, click here.