Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue, delivered a powerful speech about the Jewish community’s responsibility to combat poverty at the “A Better Illinois” interfaith service to call on politicians in Springfield to move forward on progressive income tax legislation. Speakers included Imam Matthew Ramadan, Rev. Booker Vance, Rev. Otis Moss III, and Bishop Alberto Rojas. Full text of Rabbi Russo’s speech is printed below. Learn more about JCUA’s work on “A Better Illinois.”
By Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue
One of the central projects of the Five Books of Moses, or the Torah, is to transform our personal narratives into a greater sense of empathy and moral responsibility. The starkest example of this is when the text repeats the refrain, “ki eved hayita be’eretz mitzrayim”- for you were once a slave in the land of Egypt.
The Torah seeks to transform us into people who see those who are vulnerable and exposed and act towards creating a more just society (based on a teaching of Rabbi Shai Held).
This same theme manifests itself in a line that is known to most Jews, recited in a daily prayer. We pray every day, to a God who is “hagadol, hagibor, vehanora, el elyon” – a God who is supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.
But what most people do not know is the continuation of this verse from the Book of Deuteronomy,
“God shows no favor and takes no bribe, but rather God upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
The text begins by praising God as “great, mighty, and awesome.” Of what does God’s greatness, mightiness, and awesomeness consist? According to these verses, not of God’s having created the world, and not of God’s having demonstrated God’s ability to smite God’s enemies. No, God’s grandeur is rooted in God’s fairness, a God who shows no favor and takes no bribe, a God who champions the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden.
Today we are gathering to uphold this very biblical precept – that so long as any person in our community is without food, without clothing, without schooling, without housing, without safety, without security, then none of us are truly free. For our freedom is intertwined together. And only when have cared for all in this great city can we truly say that we are a sacred community, together walking in God’s ways.