There are some weeks when it seems as if everything going on in the world around us is disconcerting (to say the least). There is division, strife and suffering. One could say that the level of discourse is at an all-time low, but there isn’t a whole lot of discourse going on. There is a lot of talking “at,” and not a whole lot of talking “with.” It spreads a cloak of darkness across society.
Like a ray of sunshine on cloudy day, though, there are still acts of kindness that warm our hearts and remind us that there is a lot of good in the world. I am reminded of Oskar Schindler, who in the midst of all the atrocities during the Holocaust, saved hundreds of Jewish lives; of course, this was only one person and his actions were only a drop in the bucket compared to what could and should have been done. Even so, that drop in the bucket made a huge difference—especially to those on his famous list and their families.
Closer to home, there are friends and neighbors who are also helping to bring light into a dark world. They are talking “with” their fellow human beings. They are trying to lighten the burdens of those who suffer. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but its significance is great.
On this Shabbat, I will be thinking about what I can do to “be the light” we need in this world. I am only one person; alone I cannot solve the challenges we face. The more who join the effort, however, the higher the odds we can redeem this very broken world.
On Thursday I was at the JCC swimming pool. At the far end of the pool was a little girl (maybe 12-15 months) being held by her dad. She was crying (which is why I noticed her) and holding on to her daddy with all her might. And I had a flashback to my own days as a father of a young child.
I remember those days when my children (the youngest of whom is 19) would hold on to me in the pool. That firm grip from those little hands and arms reminded me of just how much my kids needed me. At the same time, it was heartwarming to know that not only did they need me, but I was able to give them exactly what they needed: a sense of safety and security. There is nothing in the world like that feeling.
Even though my kids are grown up now, I know that they still need me…but in different ways. I also recognize that at different times there are others who need me. There are members of the congregation who depend on me for guidance, and who know that at some time I may need to accompany them through a difficult time. There are clients of mine at the JCC who depend on me to help them reach their fitness goals in a safe and effective way; others rely on me help keep them active and independent in their older years. There are also those in society in general who count on me as a fellow citizen to do the right thing, to support the positive endeavors in which we are engaged, and to help them meet their needs.
It feels good to be needed, but it feels even better to be able to provide for those needs. This is a Jewish value to be sure, but more than that, we know it to be true in our hearts.
I don’t know if you saw the news article from the Washington Post on Wednesday, but there was a distressing article about the amount of trash washing up on remote islands these days. One beach alone, was littered with 414 million pieces of garbage—most of it plastic.
What are we doing to our planet? What are we doing to make it better?
The Torah itself wants us to take care of our home because it’s the only one we have. In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, God told Adam that the world was his to work and guard. This is not a coincidental use of words. From the very beginning, the Creator made clear that we are to make us of the planet, but we must also see to it that we do so in a responsible way. It needs to be healthy for generations to come.
Our weekly Torah portion, Behar, touches on this same theme. We are introduced to the laws of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee. During the Sabbatical Year, field were supposed to lie fallow and trees and bushes untended. Does this sound like modern crop rotation techniques today? The Torah tells us that this would occur once every seven year; it is still observed in a modified way in Israel to this day.
We may not be able to observe the Sabbatical Year in the USA (and in fact the mitzvah only applies in the Land of Israel), but there is much more we can do to care for the planet. Remember: reduce, re-use and recycle. Your Mother Earth will appreciate it…and so will coming generations!
My weekly musings that I share each week with Beth El – The Heights Synagogue…and now with you too!
This Shabbat is the first of many that is not a “special” Shabbat. The last two weeks were Passover, before that Shabbat Hagadol, and before that Hachodesh, Parah, etc.
Nevertheless, this Shabbat is significant to us today because it falls between two important dates on the Hebrew calendar: Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance) and Yom Hazikaron/Ha’atzma’ut (Israel Memorial Day and Independence Day—that are observed one day after the other). Their proximity on the calendar is coincidental; it is just the way it worked out in modern times. The 27th of Nissan was chosen by the Knesset in the early 1950s as the result of negotiations, putting it somewhere on the Jewish calendar between the day that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began and the day that the Nazis declared that the Ghetto had been completely liquidated. Yom Ha’atzma’ut, of course, was set on the anniversary of the establishment of the state, with Yom Hazikaron set the day before.
It always seemed to me that it was more than a coincidence that these two observances are so close to each other. Just as Yom Ha’atzma’ut follows Yom Hashoah, the establishment of the State of Israel followed the Holocaust. This understanding is somewhat simplistic, though.
Modern Zionism had been working on creating a Jewish State beginning in the 19th Century. Settlement and support of this venture began soon afterward and grew during the first part of the 20th Century. Many historians believe that Israel would have come into being eventually, but that the Holocaust (and the resultant world sympathy for the Jews displaced as result) sped up the process.
Each of these observances stands independently; one is not a result of the other even though they are somewhat connected. This Shabbat as we stand between these two dates, let us reflect one of the worst episodes in our history…as well as one of the most glorious. The path we follow on the calendar remind us of Passover’s message of redemption—even when it seems most unlikely.