Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? — Psalm 10:1
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.
More than 10 years ago, tragedy struck in the heart of Jerusalem. A terrorist broke into a local high school and massacred eight young students as they poured over their Bibles deep in study. To make the situation even more tragic, the school had been moments away from celebrating the onset of the Hebrew month Adar – the month in which Purim is observed. That holiday recounts events in the book of Esther and is one of the most joyful holidays in the Jewish year. We have a saying in Judaism: “When Adar comes, our joy increases.” But on that night, there was no joy. Only sorrow and unanswered questions.
When tragedy strikes, especially when the victims are young and innocent, we often wonder: Where was God? How could He let this happen? Even King David asked these difficult questions. Psalm 10 begins: “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” The psalm goes on to ask how God can allow evildoers to get away with their crimes. Where is the justice? More importantly, where is the Judge?
Many people asked these questions during the days following the tragic shooting in Jerusalem. As it happened, one of the victims, 15-year-old Segev Peniel Avihayil, had answered those questions just days earlier.
On the night of the shooting, Segev’s bereaved father went into his son’s room and found a recently penned poem sitting on the desk. It was an esoteric poem that ended with a “row of souls,” eerily reminiscent of the row of body bags at the school, all proclaiming that “there is judgment and there is a Judge.”
And that’s what we also believe.
No matter how things may seem, we know there is a God and justice will ultimately prevail – even if we don’t understand how that will happen. Psalm 10 transitions from questions and not understanding God’s ways to a prayer asking God to intervene and exact justice: “Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness” (v. 15). The psalm ends with David’s confidence that justice will triumph, “The LORD is King for ever and ever . . . defending the fatherless and the oppressed (vv. 16, 18). As King of the universe, God will have the final say.
David’s questioning of God’s ways certainly resonates with us today. It appears that so much evil is allowed to exist. However, we must take to heart the rest of the psalm as David prayerfully puts his faith in God’s justice. Let us do the same and pour out our heartfelt prayers before the Lord, “so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror” (v.18).
May the Judge bring all evildoers to justice and replace all terror and injustices with His shalom, peace.
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.