Rosh Hashanah 5780 – The Complete Picture Project

This week’s One Minute Torah was delivered at the traditional service on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. A member of our CBJ community, Rebecca […]

This week’s One Minute Torah was delivered at the traditional service on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

A member of our CBJ community, Rebecca Grace, is trying to change the way we do criminal sentencing in this country, one courtroom at a time. Criminal trials usually focus on the details of the crime. The goal is to figure out whether or not the accused is guilty, and not to really get to know the person.

Rebecca is a documentary film director, and this past year she created a non-profit called The Complete Picture Project, to humanize individuals who are being sentenced for a crime. For example, Rebbecca created a video for Beshiba Cook, who was guilty of a drug crime and looking at 27 months in prison. Through interviews with Beshiba,  her family, and other people in Beshiba’s life, the video revealed that Beshiba is a bereaved mother, who did not have access to mental health treatment after her grown son died in a boating accident. Beshiba is also a devoted daughter, whose elderly mother is dependent on her for daily care. And Beshiba has recently turned her life around, stopped using drugs and is an A-student in community college. Before seeing the video, the judge said there was no way Beshiba was not going to jail.  After the judge watched Rebecca’s video, he gave Beshiba zero time behind bars.  

I thought of the Complete Picture project as I read the first lines of Kol Ma’aminim this year, a poem we sing on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The poem is made of couplets, and usually the second line of the couplet expands on the first.  But the connection between the very first two lines in veiled. The first line reads:

האוחז ביד מדת משפט

God holds in His hand the measure of judgement  (mishpat).  

What we hold in our hand guides our actions. But, it also can be kept at a distance.

The second  line reads:

וכל מאמינים שהוא אל אמונה

And all believe that God is El Emunah (a faithful  God). 

The word emunah, which is also the root of the word repeated throughout the poem – ma’aminim – describes a trustworthy, loyal relationship.  What does emunah, faithfulness, have to do with mishpat, judgement? Perhaps God’s faithful relationship to Her beloved creations modifies divine judgement. 

As it is with God, so it is with humanity. When we do not know a person and we see them behaving badly, we judge them entirely by their bad behavior.  The opening lines of this poem remind us to hold our tendency to judge others at a distance. Keep it in your hand, but not next to your heart. Let your essence be one of emunah – of relationship and mutual understanding.