Image: Statue of Lady Justice. (Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock, all rights reserved)
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).Pirkei Avot 1:18
This quotation from Pirkei Avot stuck in my mind last night, as I watched the impeachment trial of the president on TV.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was the president of the Sanhedrin during the First Revolt against Rome, and his life ended in martyrdom: he was beheaded by the Romans, along with the High Priest, Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, just before they destroyed the Temple in 70 CE. For his entire life, Roman Judea had been in turmoil.
Shimon was the son of Rabban Gamliel, another president of the Sanhedrin, and his great-grandfather was Hillel the Elder. The family traced their lineage back to King David. They were as close to royalty as the rabbis ever got.
Here and now in the 21st century, things are looking grim. In the impeachment trial, over half the “jurors” (Senators) have signaled a disinterest in justice or truth by voting again and again for a trial without witnesses or evidence. The Senate Majority Leader has said explicitly that the Republicans in the Senate are coordinating their votes with the White House — that without witnesses or evidence, the matter is already decided. Serious charges are being brushed away as if they are a meaningless nuisance.
The world stands on “justice, truth, and peace.” One might also say that those three qualities are interdependent: it is impossible to have any two of the three without the third. If we want justice, then we need to know the truth of a situation. If we want the truth, then we must hear from witnesses and see the evidence. If we want peace, then we need a process for justice that sorts out what is true and that meets inequities with just solutions.
At this moment, the situation seems dark. The world feels like it is falling apart (nuclear threats from rogue nations, climate change and its terrors, growing inequities of income and resources, to name but a few.) Over half of our people have serious concerns about our leadership, specifically the President and the people who work for him.
What is the righteous person to do at such a time?
Whatever our political ties, we can remind our lawmakers that we are watching this process and taking notes. We can write, fax, or call them and say, “We are watching.” We can demand that they seek the facts. If the facts are in the president’s favor, then he need fear nothing. If the facts are not in his favor, then the Senate will have to take action.
We can, each of us, individually choose justice, truth, and peace:
- We can conduct our disagreements in just and fair ways, arguing the issues, not the personalities.
- We can seek truth, not the “post-truth” that privileges emotion and personal belief.
- We can be relentless in seeking honesty in ourselves.
- We can ask, “Where is the evidence?”
- We can refrain from name-calling and mockery.
- We can seek to connect with the person on the other side of the argument.
- When it gets to be too much, we can withdraw and recharge rather than burn down the house.
- We can be humble about the things we do not know, and honor the learning and expertise of others.
- We can choose hope over despair. I may feel like all is lost, but I must behave as if there is still some hope for improvement.