Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. — Psalm 82:3-4
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-American leaders began their heroic march for civil rights and fight for justice, the Jewish community stood side-by-side on the frontlines of faith. As we honor Dr. King’s legacy this month, let Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s reflections on justice inspire and encourage you.
For more on the historic and spiritual bonds between the African-American and Jewish community, download our complimentary booklet here.
Psalm 82 expresses outrage at judges and officials who did not do their jobs properly. As history has shown repeatedly, judges can be bribed, officers can be corrupt, and justice can be blind. As part of the psalmist’s diatribe against such injustice, he pleaded: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Thankfully, today, many officials do their job with exactly this spirit. However, the reality still is that many others do not.
I think, however, there is another way to understand this verse. While the simple meaning suggests that the psalmist is addressing judges, officers, and the like, I think that the psalmist’s sentiments can be addressed to us as well. I believe that when those in high positions are not doing their job, it becomes our job.
As the Jewish sages taught thousands of years ago, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” What this means is that when no one else is stepping up, and especially when those in powerful positions are not fulfilling their roles, we should take on that responsibility as best as we can.
I was deeply moved by the recent news story about a couple, Debbie and Chico Jimenez, who retired from their management jobs so that they could have more time to help the less fortunate. They started a ministry dedicated to feeding the hungry. However, after years of serving countless meals to many hungry and homeless individuals, police officers told the couple that their activity was in violation of city ordinances.
As Debbie said, “We were given 10 days to either pay the fine or tell them we’re going to court. We’re going to court. The police don’t like it. But how can we turn our backs on the hungry? We can’t.”
I don’t know what I would have done in that situation, or what any of us would do. But I do know that if these people can go through so much difficulty to take care of the needy when no one else will, then the least that we can do is to step up and do our part when it comes with hardly any difficulty at all.
Read over the words in Psalm 82, verses 3 and 4, again. Read them aloud, and accept them as our personal mission. When the world largely ignores the suffering of the needy, it is our duty to pay attention, step up, and take action to alleviate suffering in whatever way we can.
Where there is no justice, let’s bring justice and bring glory to the kingdom of God.
Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the Civil Rights Movement.