This morning I had a double honor of attending and participating in two civic ceremonies: the swearing-in of our new Washington State Supreme Court Justices and the opening session of the Washington State Legislature.
In the morning, I was invited to share words at the Court, after three Justices, fresh off of their re-election, were sworn in. After remarks from Governor Inslee, each Justice was introduced, was administered the oath, and–after taking their seat on the bench–shared their own thoughts. I closed with the benediction.
At noon, both houses of the Legislature convened for the opening of the new legislative session. I was invited to share the opening prayer in the Senate.
It was an honor to attend both. Not only because I think that the spiritual and moral voice should have a seat at the table of our civic institutions, but also that honoring those institutions and their rituals and cycles of time is so important to the fabric of our democracy and society. When those are dishonored and break down, then we are in trouble.
Here are the words I shared at both events:
At the Washington State Supreme Court
On this day when across this campus our Legislature convenes for the first time this year, we honor and bless this Court, a reminder that while we as citizens empower our legislature to make laws, we also empower our Court to uphold our deepest values.
We are blessed that our system of government allows for the separation of powers, provides for the orderly execution of justice and establishes a dynamic system of legal interpretation.
In our Scriptures we read this verse: “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). What does it mean, then, to judge in righteousness?
The Jewish interpretive tradition understands this in a very specific way. In the Talmud, the great work of Jewish law, lore, and ethics, the ancient rabbis teach, “the court must ensure that there will not be a situation where one litigant is sitting and one litigant is standing, or a situation where one litigant says everything that they need to say and one litigant is told to curtail their statement.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shevuot 30a)
In other words, the pursuit of justice must itself be just. Those who come before this and any Court must be received in fairness, treated as equals, and given the same opportunities. May these justices, both returning and recently renewed, honor the inherent dignity and divinity of all who have business before this Court and all of the citizens of this great State they serve.
To you, our Justices, we seek blessing.
May you be deliberate in your process,
independent in your position,
open in your thinking,
mindful of your duties,
and both confident and humble in your decisions.
May you be blessed with wisdom and compassion, discernment and curiosity.
May we all be uplifted by your commitment to service and to the law.
May you judge in righteousness.
And let us say, Amen.
At the Washington State Senate
Earlier this morning, I had the distinct pleasure of offering blessings across the way at the Temple of Justice, as we honored the returning and renewed members of the Washington State Supreme Court, the interpreter of the laws. And now I stand before you, our representatives and legislators, who craft the law, the foundation of our society. You, our Senators who take our values, our ideals, and craft them into policy. To this body and all assembled within, as you begin again this most important work, we ask for blessing.
In the Jewish liturgical tradition, we read a section of our Torah, our Scripture, in order each week on the Sabbath. This week we read from the Book of Exodus in which the Israelites are led out of Egyptian bondage by Moses to the shores of the Red Sea. And at a time when it seemed all hope was lost, Moses raised up his staff and the sea split, “the waters,” as the text describes, “formed a wall on the right and on the left.”
If only the way forward was that easy to discern.
We no longer have a Moses to guide us. But the task ahead is the same.
You, our legislators—with your own staffs—are entrusted by us the citizens of this State, to create a path forward. Rather than walls of water, may you hold back scorn and stubbornness, pettiness and negativity.
May you, our Senators, find meaning in your work. May you face the challenge ahead to build a better society and State for all of its citizens with wisdom and courage, compassion and humility, discernment and curiosity.
As you work together, may you be firm in your convictions yet modest in your opinions.
May you treat each other with the respect befitting a fellow Senator and dignity befitting another human created in the image of God.
May you recognize compromise as a sign of strength, not weakness.
May you remember that in this chamber the words majority and minority refer only to a number of seats, not who has a greater claim to truth, commitment, empathy or justice.
And most of all may you be blessed with peace, a session of peace as you create peace for this great State and all who dwell within it.
And let us say, Amen.