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Some things were meant to be together. At least, that's what I learned somewhere along the way about table manners. Even if you just want the salt, etiquette requires that you ask for the salt and pepper. In the words of Miss Manners, "they get lonely if separated."

Ancient Israelites, as far as I know, didn't even have a word for pepper, but they did have the twin words mishpat and tsedaqah, which most English Bibles translate as justice and righteousness. "Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness" (Ps. 72:1)—justice and righteousness go together just like king and royal son.

"The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" (Ps. 103:6), and the Messiah "will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness" (Isa. 9:7). Prophets and psalmists thought in twos: throne and kingdom, establishing and upholding, justice and righteousness. Mishpat and tsedaqah. Two great tastes, to quote the commercial of my childhood, that taste great together.

Just as salt and pepper belong together on a well-set table, justice and righteousness belong together in a nation. Mishpat and tsedaqah show up together more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible, nearly always in a political context. Because justice and righteousness are the foundation of God's throne (Ps. 89:14), they are also the "measuring line" and the "plumb line" (Isa. 28:17) of earthly thrones.

Which brings us to Democrats and Republicans, and to why I will be voting this November with, well, fear and trembling.

Justice, in biblical terms, is more than equal treatment under the law—it involves putting power at the service of the powerless and wealth at the service of the poor. ...

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Salt-and-Pepper Politics
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2004

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