29 Oct Lech Lecha: What do we need to leave behind?
This week in the Torah, Abraham receives a call to start his journey: “Go to yourself, leaving your land, from where you were born, from your parents house.” The fundamental spiritual call is about transformation, re-creating ourselves based on ideals of holiness, not being satisfied with ourselves but passionately and constantly bettering ourselves. Torah is not about feeling good; it is about improving ourselves and the world.
Rashi’s comment on this verse is that “to yourself” means “for your own good, for your own enjoyment.” This spiritual journey of bettering myself is for our own good. But it doesn’t always feel good. I regularly tell my children, “don’t just have an opinion, learn some facts first,” they don’t like it. It is more comfortable to say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just what I think.” But we need to examine and abandon dysfunctional attitudes, beliefs, and habits. We need to question ourselves. Like Abraham smashing his father’s idols, we need to question what we have been taught, and to leave it behind if that is the right thing. We need to be willing to leave our idols behind.
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One of the more interesting questions I received this week came from someone asked: what does Judaism say about wishing harm toward other people, such as certain politicians and members of political movements.” In this moment, when we are so divided, I believe this is a very important question.
The truth is, we do pray for harm to befall “wicked” people every day. In the amida, the silent standing prayer which is traditionally said 3 times daily, we say the following prayer:
Let there be no hope for informers, and may all the heretics and all the wicked instantly perish; may all the enemies of Your people be speedily extirpated; and may You swiftly uproot, break, crush and subdue the reign of wickedness speedily in our days. Blessed are You L-rd, who crushes enemies and subdues the wicked.
We should rejoice when Hizbollah arms depots blow up, or when foreign military leaders with violent ambitions are stopped.
On the other hand, we have a mitzvah of ahavat yisra’el, “love of our fellow Jew,” which includes always wishing the best for our fellow Jews. Rashi limits this mitzvah only to Jews who are fellows in Torah and mitzvot. Why just Jews? For Rashi, that is the category of people holding themselves up to a high moral and spiritual standard. I personally would extend it to “people who join me in trying to lead a virtuous life and improving the world.”
From a halachic perspective, to wish ill on members of another political party implies I view them as wicked, and certainly not as spiritual seekers striving to improve their lives and the world.
We can disagree with others, but I believe it is inaccurate and destructive to think of them as wicked people deserving hatred and ill will. This divisiveness is ruining our country. We need to see each other with a “good eye,” looking for the good intentions behind people who hold positions we may disagree with.
Please, please, exercise your right to vote; do it early; if you are voting by ballot consider dropping it off personally. But let’s all practice good will toward our fellows, both toward those who agree with us and also those who disagree with us. We are all in this together.
Nov 6 & 20, 4:30 [note the early time due to daylight savings time]
Join us in the zoom room (kolhalevpbc.org; the link for “virtual shul” is at the bottom) for our celebration of Shabbat with songs, prayers, and friends.
Shabbat on the Lawn
December 5th 10:00
Let’s get together, for real!
Join us for Shabbat outdoors on the lawn, with music & Torah discussion. Social distancing observed. Children’s service led by Tanya will include music, stories, and edible art. BYO picnic lunch.
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Rabbi David Siff