A passage in this week’s Torah portion states: “You shall not respect persons in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike.”
Our sages tell us that this verse admonishes us not to favor or show partiality to any person in a legal case. Furthermore, this passage refers to judges, and sets forth that they must avoid everything that can possibly be construed as a bribe.
We are told that one of our sages named Rabbi Samuel was passing over a plank and laid across a stream, when a stranger drew near and offered his hand to lead him to safety over the frail bridge. Samuel, on inquiring who he was, learned that he was a man who was bringing a legal case to adjudicate before him.
“Friend, thou hast disqualified me by thy eager courtesy. I am no longer able to judge your case with impartiality.”
As for the reference to “small” and “great,” our commentators have interpreted those words as referring to those who appear to be distinguished people in contrast to those who appear to be less important. But they tell us that surface appearances are often deceptive. Seemingly important people may turn out to be less than significant, while “small” people may, in fact, be the nobility of the human race.
The message here for us: that each of us can make a difference in this world for good. That every act of kindness and generosity is recognized and important to God. I think it fair to say that the world merits to endure because of all of the “small” people who make such a great difference in our lives, and in the life of our world.
A passage in the Torah this week tells us that “man does not live by bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
What the Torah is saying is that we all have powerful hungers that cannot be satisfied by the material things in our lives. We all have a deep hunger for love and affection. We have a great hunger to be needed and to know that we are filling a vital role in some lives other than our own. We have a hunger to feel that we are making some contribution, however humble, to the well-being of our world.
We have a genuine hunger for dignity, for self-respect, and for courage, as these qualities enable us to renew our faith in ourselves and in one another.
The Torah wants us to be aware of these hungers so that we might better understand ourselves and live fulfilling lives. Blessed as we are with material well-being, it is those thing that we cannot see or touch that make us most human, and that represent our path to personal fulfillment.
We are each endowed with a heart that yearns for nourishment and with a soul forever reaching out for something grander than it has ever known.
For sure, “man does not live by bread alone.”
We saw a wonderful and inspiring Broadway show the other night. “Come from Away” which tells the true story of how residents of Gander, a Newfoundland island community of some 9000 people, responded with kindness and hospitality to 7,000 stranded international passengers whose airplanes were diverted when the United States airspace was closed on September 11, 2001. (38 airplanes were forced to land in Gander.)
The play celebrates kindness and charity toward distressed foreigners. At a time in history when there is so much cruel controversy regarding immigrants, we are introduced to ordinary people who act spontaneously out of concern for these strangers, extending welcome hospitality.
Yes, we are now in a time in which millions of immigrants are homeless and denied entry to increasingly xenophobic nations, including the United States.
While “Come from Away” is not a Jewish show, there are so many Torah values that find expression in this production. Kindness and welcome toward strangers, compassion for those who face great need, and the emergence of the best human instinct to identify with and respond to those who need us.
The Torah tells us, thirty-six times, to “remember the heart of the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” I think of that admonition especially in these times of intolerance, meanness and cruelty toward so many would-be immigrants.
“Come from Away” tells of the best that is in humanity: our capacity to feel for the plight of others, and our ability to ease the burden that so many people carry. The story reminds me of an observation made by the poet, Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.”
I wish you Shabbat Shalom and hope that you will join us for our outdoor service tonight on our patio at 7:30pm.
The Palestinian Authority recently announced that it is increasing payments to terrorists and their families to more than $403 million this year. 7% of each P.A. budget must go to paying terrorists, or their families, if they are killed in the act. Terrorists who have been sentenced to three to five years in Israeli prisons receive the average income of a Palestinian, about $580 per month. The families of those who committed more severe crimes and were involved in killing Israelis receive five times that amount each month for the rest of their lives. What a horrible commentary upon a part of our world where there are so many who yearn for peace and coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians.
I learn of these figures, and I think of an episode of the Torah. We are told that Pinchas, who in his zeal for God, took it upon himself to attack and kill Zimri, together with his consort, Cozbi, the Midianite princess. It was Pinchas’ sense of “righteous indignation” against those who displayed immoral conduct among the Israelites that motivated his actions. For many of our sages, his actions were extreme and misguided.
Yes, our world is a threatened place today because of those who have misguided and zealous passions. We live in a world where there are so many brainwashed young people, prepared to die and to kill, for the evil cause that animates their being.
We Jews: let us cherish our religious heritage which places so much value upon thinking and questioning. For Judaism, “blind faith” in any cause is recognized as dangerous. For it is in our ability to think and reason and feel compassion that we are “created in the image of God.”
I hope you will join us this evening for our Membership BBQ at 6:30pm and then “Shabbat Under the Stars” at 7:30pm: our outdoor service held on our patio, weather permitting.
The recent suicides of two prominent people have shaken many of us as we realize that material wealth does not buy happiness and contentment. We are reminded that so many people endure intense personal struggle with few, if any, knowing of their inner pain.
Studies show that some 34,000 people take their own lives each year, more than those who die by car accidents. And two surprising revelations: The highest suicide rates are among people aged 45 to 64, and teenagers are the least likely to take their own lives.
What does Judaism say about suicide? The Talmud states that “for him who takes his own life with full knowledge of his action no rites are to be observed…there is to be no rending of clothes and no eulogy.” Suicide is viewed as a “sin” against God as we regard life as a gift that is to be cherished and preserved.
But our tradition sets forth a category of suicide that is especially relevant to our times. Jewish law speaks of an individual being an annus, meaning “a person under compulsion.” Such a person is regarded as not responsible for his actions, and all burial and mourning rites are to be observed for him. This is the person who is in intense pain, either emotional or physical, and who is regarded as “compromised” in their full knowledge. That is to say that our tradition is sensitive to those who endure intense suffering and who take their lives because life is too painful to live. As such, they are not regarded as responsible for their actions and are to be accorded the same honor and respect granted the average Jew who has met a natural death.
Clearly, we have a major problem in our society. So many people who live secret lives of agony, and who see no other way out of that pain. They most often feel isolated and ashamed to speak of their inner struggle.
To the people of my congregation I can only say that there is always hope, and that my door is always open to you. Do not suffer in silence or in isolation. And for all of us, let us be more sensitive to those whom we know to be in pain. And kinder and more understanding in general, remembering that we do not know what others may be feeling or struggling through. Judaism has always affirmed that “to take one life is to destroy an entire world, while to save one life is to save an entire world.”
Yes, life, with its pains and challenges is a sacred gift. May we cherish that gift and never feel that we have no place to turn. Let our hearts be open to those unfortunate people who live in constant pain, and may we provide comfort, hope and help to each of them.