We are called upon to do that which is good and right in the eyes of God. This is a tremendous challenge--and an honor. It entails the fulfillment of the teachings of the Torah in a spirit of truth and compassion, but favoring the tendency to "hessed".
Angel for Shabbat
In his book, “The Case for Democracy,” Natan Sharansky divides the world into two kinds of societies: fear societies, and free societies. Fear societies are tyrannies which rule by terrorizing their subjects, by restricting freedom of speech and movement, by instilling fear so that people will not voice opposition to the rulers. Fear societies are controlled by tyrants who are not hesitant to brutalize their people in order to quash dissent.
The detailed description of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness reminds us of the importance of the past stages of our lives. It also serves to call our attention to the future, to the Promised Land, to the goals not yet attained. Just as we are strengthened by our past, we are energized by the hopes for our future.
Thoughts on Parashat Hukkat
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
The Torah portion relates the episode where the Israelites complain bitterly that they need water. They ask Moses why he took them from Egypt only to let them die of thirst in the wilderness. What kind of leader was he, if this is all he could do for them?
In our world today, we are—unfortunately—accustomed to dealing with biased, hate-filled, and dishonest enemies. We sometimes wonder why people abandon reason and fairness in order to maintain hateful prejudices. But we also know that the “Bil’am effect” is possible. Some special individuals—steeped in animosity and prejudice—can rise above their biases, can open their eyes, can become forces for good instead of pawns of evil.
Who could be more successful, more beloved, more worthy of respect than Mordecai? He was a superhero who stood up for the dignity of the Jewish people, who was largely responsible for averting Haman’s evil decree to annihilate the Jews, and who rose to be the king’s viceroy. Yet even Mordecai had his critics.
Rabbi Dr. David de Sola Pool served Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City for a period spanning 63 years, from 1907 until his death in December 1970. In remembrance of the 50th year anniversary of his passing, I quote from an article he wrote in 1944, entitled: "Are We Disinheriting Our Own Children?"
This week's Torah portion includes Jacob's last words to his sons. He described his fourth son, Judah, as a lion, and stated that the scepter of kingship would never depart from Judah (and his descendants). All the brothers (and their tribes) would turn to Judah for leadership. What did Judah do to deserve this singular role?
Jacob came to recognize what all humans need to recognize: our lives have significance, we have goals to strive for; we are not lost and forgotten. We should not underestimate ourselves.
The Esavs of the world—whatever their religion or nationality—are hateful and arrogant bullies. The Yaacovs of the world—whatever their religion or nationality—need to stand up to those who would humiliate and crush them.
When people succumb to the self-image of victimhood, they live as perpetual victims. When the Yaacovs develop their strength and self-confidence, they can resist—and defeat—the bullying tactics of Esav.