Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Shof’tim

I came across a story that screamed to be shared:

A notoriously stingy man took a lot of heat from his local community. Not just the clergy, but his neighbors urged him to see the pain and devastation people all around him experience. He needed to get involved and help. He would feel good for doing it.

Finally, he had enough and he told his son to go to the market and by the biggest and cheapest fish he could find – irrespective of its condition. His son came back proudly having bought a large rancid fish – for pennies. Dad was proud of his son. He set out to the community square to find a beggar to invite to dinner.

It was the first time anyone could remember that the man had invited a guest to dinner. It did make him feel good for having made the invitation and putting such a large piece of fish in front of his guest. The beggar’s stomach did not handle the rancid fish and he became deathly sick from food poisoning.

The man and his son came to visit the beggar in the hospital. They felt good having visited the sick. When the beggar died from the illness, they went to the funeral and to the house of mourning to pay respects for the family’s loss.

As they left, the man said to his son, “What a privilege to have gotten involved with this beggar. We did so many good deeds on his account and it didn’t even cost us more than a few pennies!”

I seem to read about this man a lot in our daily news: people so self-oriented that they have no idea how their behaviors impact the people around them. Some call the behaviors nefarious. Yes, there are folks intentionally trying to manipulate others for their own power. Yes, at the same time, a lot of the rhetoric we experience these days comes from people who are just plain clueless. They abdicated their obligations to preserve the sanctity of the bigger community, having accepted as the one and only gospel, what was fed to them, and the walls built around them.

The man believed that he did good deeds, even while we are horrified with the ignorance and selfishness he exhibited in “doing them.” I think historically, of those who supported the destruction of other people, even while regularly participating in religions that demand love and peace. One can make the Bible say a lot of things, but there are some sacred texts, across the religious spectrum that are unequivocal – they help us see that those who manipulate the scripture for their personal benefit missed the point:
The Torah commands us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and being (Deut 6). Launching from that precept, the rabbis explain that loving God means giving to each other without expecting to take in return. (Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler) Deep within our tradition we believe, “To love God truly, you must first love man. And if anyone tells you that he loves God but does not love his fellow man, he is lying.” The Gospel of Mark expounds, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (12:31) Rumi, speaking from the Quran, said, ““Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Love means looking past our boundaries, our limitations, our internal desires to understand and behave in ways that appreciate others – without ulterior or selfish motives.

This week, Torah commands us to internalize its commitment to justice, peace, and love. We are not to deviate from our commitment to the text that says, “Do not stray from the path of its counsel, neither to the left or to the right.” In times when political opinions are so clearly ensconced, we must remember that voting party lines, excoriating groups of people with whom we disagree, myopically deciding that we have all the answers and people who disagree are wrong and dangerous – these are outside of God and pervert everything that we are supposed to learn and do in faith. Picking sides that only vilify the other is not within God. If we are to espouse faith, we need to live it – we need to reach way past our comfort zones to listen to each other, learn with and from each other, and return to the basics of knowing that one cannot love the Creator and abhor the creation.

Shabbat Shalom.