Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–B’haalot’cha

When I was young, I wanted to be important. As I grew, I started to understand that the goal was less about stardom as it was about wisdom. Stardom would come if one did really good things. As I now have grown children and a grandson, I realize that recognition is fleeting and ultimately a nice stroke for the ego, but the essence of a person roots in his/her commitment to growth and the good work. This ideal is by no means selfless; we still need affirmation, but I find that the affirmation I get from seeing my work bear fruit far out-values the public acclaim and accolade. Recognition is good, but I see too many people who stand out I the public eye who seem to be only about being able to stand out in the public eye. At the same time, I have blessed to learn from so many people who find fulfillment in knowing that they touched someone’s life in a positive way. The “press” only serves to illustrate how others can do the same work and make an even greater impact. Each of us has gifts to bring and to share; the greatest blessing happens when we realize that when our special gifts synergize with those of others in our community, we can affect an amazing transformation for the community as a whole.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us that even while the menorah (candelabra) for the Tabernacle is uniform in its structure, the artisans create each branch with meticulous detailing. Given the human impact on this endeavor, even if we try to make each branch the same, each will end up unique in some major and other subtle ways. Each is sacred, and the menorah is of no value unless each branch is whole. While the menorah is to be a beautiful work of art, attracting the attention of all who approach the tabernacle, its function is to help us focus on being ethical, moral, and observant of the needs of the community in which we live. Only when the full menorah bears, light do we know that the Tabernacle is fully functional.

Our Sages teach us that each of us is a branch on the menorah. We share DNA, culture, and community, and yet, each of us stands uniquely apart from every other branch. No one branch is expendable, and no one branch should seek more attention/accolades than the others. It is only because each branch (each of us) stands supported by others that we function and accomplish anything at all. The wealthiest could not be but for the people who work to build his/her empire. We all need each other and society cannot function well when we look at some branches as having greater intrinsic value than others. Hence, the problems in our society … as the economic and educational divide widens, as the ones who seek power feel less accountable to the constituency he/she is supposed to represent, the fabric of society begins to unravel. The substance holding and supporting each branch of the menorah begin to fail.

This assessment is not a liberal ideology; it is the foundation of civilization. We learn from many traditions that one can tell the strength of a community by how it treats those in greatest need.

“Do not side with the majority to do wrong!” ~~ Exodus (Shmot) 23:2

“A government can fall because of one injustice.” ~~ The Chofetz Chaim

“The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” ~~ Mahatma Gandhi

“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” ~~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” ~~ Pearl S. Buck

We need to do better for everybody, be more aware of everybody’s needs, be more responsive to these needs with less judgment, for we do not walk in their shoes. Where we fail in any of the above, the light for all of us extinguishes. Shabbat Shalom.