The hallmark of who we are as a Jewish people is our commitment to humanity—our own humanity and the humanity of others. We rebel against oppression; we reject the philosophy of business is business, that profits come first; we embrace social responsibility and mutual trust. Each of us who strives to live by these Jewish ideals is a moral hero who defies the dehumanizing tendencies evident in our society.
Angel for Shabbat
The Talmud (Hagiga 12b) records an enigmatic statement by Rabbi Yosei: “Woe unto people, who see but do not know what they see; who stand, but do not know on what they stand.”
In his essay “Fate and Destiny,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik delineates two aspects of Jewish peoplehood: the camp and the congregation. “The camp is created as a result of the desire for self-defense and is nurtured by a sense of fear; the congregation is created as a result of the longing for the realization of an exalted ethical idea and is nurtured by the sentiment of love. Fate reigns in unbounded fashion in the camp; destiny reigns in the congregation….”
Quiet piety and self-effacing righteousness are great virtues. Yet, when we need to make a public stand on behalf of our people--then we should set aside our humility and step forward with self-confidence. When the honor and well-being of our people are at stake, we dare not shy away from responsibility. When evil persists in the world, we may not let humility get in the way of forceful resistance to evil.
The Shofar plays a central role in the Rosh Hashana liturgy and invariably is one of the highlights of the synagogue service. Its primordial sounds are meant to awaken us from spiritual slumber; and to evoke thoughts and emotions relating to the Akeida story, the Revelation at Sinai, and the Messianic Redemption.
Americans spend about 37 billion hours a year waiting in lines and few of us enjoy the experience. What really irks us, though, is when we experience someone trying to cut into line. These “cutters” offend us with their bad manners, their lack of fairness, and their apparent feeling that their time is more valuable than ours.
Each generation of Jewish parents and grandparents seems to face the same dilemma. We teach our children and grandchildren that all humans are created in the image of God; that we should respect and assist others; that love of God necessarily entails love of God’s creations. This week's Torah reading teaches: tsedek tsedek tirdof, pursue justice. Repetition of the word tsedek emphasizes that justice is not easily attained; it requires vigilance, clear thinking, honest and fair treatment of others.
Are human beings basically animals who need to be tamed by the forces of civilization? Or are humans angelic beings who sometimes get dragged down by the external forces of nature?
The Torah may be teaching us--by the silence of the Israelites--something very deep (and troubling) about human nature. It wasn't that the Israelites were bad people. No, they were simply "normal" people who wanted to get on with their lives. They "used" Moses as long as he was available. When he could no longer deliver them goods and services, they turned their thoughts to the next leader and to their future journeys.
As we experience the weeks of consolation, we are reminded that mourning is a process. It begins with God being in Heaven--remote from us--, but goes on to enable us to restore our relationship with God as being close to us. Isaiah announces God’s own promise: be comforted My people. I am here with you. Redemption will come.