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.
Angel for Shabbat
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.
Much human misery is the result of people betraying themselves by adopting artificial personae. They are so anxious to impress or blend in with others that they lose their own selves in the process. Even worse, they come to believe that they actually are what their masks portray them to be. For them, falsehood becomes truth. They no longer have the ability to distinguish between who they are and who they are pretending to be.
Israel prayed for the well-being of all the nations of the world! Although the nations probably did not know and did not care about Israel’s concern for them, Israel prayed for them. Although few if any of the nations prayed for Israel, Israel nevertheless prayed for all the nations.
Moses is seeking a leader who will be genuine, reliable and trustworthy. He asks for a leader who takes personal responsibility for each member of the community. He wants a real leader, not a false image of a leader. He wants a leader with an honest countenance, not one with a fake smile. He wants someone who actually believes in his mission, not someone who pretends to be a leader and goes through the charades of leadership for p.r. purposes.
Social justice is an essential ingredient in traditional Orthodox Judaism. It is important for Orthodox Judaism to reclaim its visionary universalistic worldview. Along with adherence to our ritual mitzvoth, we need to enlarge our commitment to the mitzvoth of social responsibility and social activism. With an inspired and vocal Orthodox Judaism, the world can become a better place for all.
If each of us would devote some time every day to thinking deeply about our spiritual lives, we could transform ourselves. If each of us would try to experience prayer as a genuine confrontation with God, we could enhance our sense of holiness. If each of us would insist that our homes, our schools and our synagogues be infused with lofty Torah values, we could re-generate a vibrant and thoughtful Modern Orthodox Judaism.
Rabbinic literature includes the names and teachings of many great and well-known sages. Yet, the rabbi who is mentioned most often in our liturgy is Rabbi Hananya ben Akashya—an obscure figure about whom we know almost nothing. We quote him at the end of our Musaf service, before the kaddish; and after every public Torah study session, to introduce the recitation of kaddish.
The public often falls prey to the blandishments and lies of the demagogues; the public can be manipulated to think that a Korah is actually better than a Moses.The great virtues of the sons of Korah were their clarity of mind, their moral courage to resist the tide of rebellion and dissension, their commitment to truth over demagoguery.