Free to Be You and Me

Aaron Pratt is a graduate of HUC’s School of Jewish Communal Service, Class of 2007.  

As a child I used to fall asleep to the music and lyrics of Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be You and Me, a ground breaking record project for children released in the late 70s.  I had completely forgotten about my nighttime ritual of loading the tape into my bedside radio until I recently saw a new Target commercial that uses the title song from this famous album.

The lyrics are profound:

There’s a land that I see

where the children are free

And I say it ain’t far

to this land from where we are

Take my hand, come with me

where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live
In a land where the river runs free

In a land through the green country

In a land to a shining sea

And you and me are free to be you and me

0411_B08.jpgWhat a beautiful image. Imagine a place where people are simply free to be themselves.  A place where there are no societal restrictions, no social norms, laws or regulations that prevent a person from being the man or woman of their choosing. Yet, today, in our country, individual liberties seem to be under attack. Turn on the television, read the newspaper or listen to your favorite public radio station and you’ll hear myriad examples of how individual freedoms in our society are being replaced by senseless hate. Among my favorites, a law in Arizona enacted by the State Legislature that espouses racism and xenophobia disguised as immigration reform and laws in states throughout the country enacted by the popular vote that turn gay and lesbian couples into second class citizens.  How has our government allowed such injustice!?

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the second part of Moses’ final speech to the Israelites.  In the speech, Moses details a legal system for the Israelites and describes at length the role of judges. The portion commands “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality” (Deuteronomy 16: 18-19).  God is placing a huge responsibility on the Israelites.  They are to choose individuals to govern their society, enforce the law, and ensure justice.

At first glance it appears that the commandment to be fair and just is given to the judges, but a closer reading suggests that the directive is incumbent upon the people, rather than the judges. The parsha continues with the resounding charge “Justice, Justice you shall pursue that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” In this new legal system, the burden of ensuring justice does not fall upon the judge, but on the everyday person.  It is the individuals in the society– people like us– that will ensure that justice is pursued.

Each of us plays an important role in making sure that society is just. That means each of us must take a stand against the injustice we see in the world around us.  Government does not allow injustice, apathy allows injustice.  Our challenge is to stay engaged members of the community. Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said: “Make no mockery of justice, for it is one of the world’s three pillars.  How so?  Because the sages have taught:  The world stands on three things: on justice, on truth and on peace. Take care not to subvert justice, for if you subvert justice you shake the world…”  As we return to our lives, let us each pledge that we will help strengthen the pillar of justice so that perhaps, one day we can be proud to say that we live in a land where you and me can be you and me.

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