In the Declaration of Independence, the signatories of that document concluded that they “appeal(ed) to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”
There was no statement of fealty to Christian identity or values, though all of them were born into that faith. Why not? And why was this particular sentence included?
The founders of this country were intent on fostering a tolerance and mutual respect with the principles that they would formulate and incorporate into the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. To that end they did not make reference to a specific creed in the Declaration. But they did include this reference to a ‘Supreme Judge’. To most, if not all of them, there was no abrogation of the principles of tolerance and respect in referencing a supreme judge who manifests the very Jewish principle of Mishpat Tzedek - righteous justice. In fact, the founding documents are imbued with values we find very familiar, in no small part due to people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who signed the Declaration, and several others, whose perception of the world included the concept of one benevolent God who judges all, both their actions and their intentions.
Our Jewish tradition and the words of our prophets clearly demonstrate that the Supreme Judge measures the actions of each individual, including those who were building what would become the United States of America, as well as the King who had cruelly subjugated them, as described in the Declaration.
Our tradition also indicates that the aspects of justice that are most vital include mercy, charity, kindness, not deferring to power in judgement, and judging your neighbor favorably, all encompassed in the alternative translations of the word Tzedek, both justice and righteousness.
On this Independence Day, may we all learn from the Founders that we can incorporate important values into our lives at all times, even when we are fighting a real battle with a dangerous enemy - perhaps especially so.
Happy Fourth of July to all of our community members, friends and neighbors!