Do you believe in cause and effect? The opening of this week’s parashat hashavua insists on precisely this: events follow in the wake of other events in a causative fashion. Let us be more precise: do you understand the effect of your acts on others, on your society, and on the world in which you live?
וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃
If you all obey these rules and guard them, as a result [ekev] you will each know the sense of loyal reliability in the covenant your ancestors spoke of in relation to HaShem (Deut. 7.12)
Behold the cause-and-effect interplay of the communal and the individual: if we all manage to be loyal to the integrity of our ethics, we will each personally feel that the ethics of our community are reliable for us.
Others call it karma when what we mean to say is that, sooner or later, what you put out into the universe comes back to you. But that’s only the half of it: our tradition goes further to assert that no one can see an individual self as exempt from the well-being of the community. Unless we are all involved, there can be no wholeness – no peace, literally, in the Hebrew.
In the light of the wholeness we Jews have a tradition of envisioning every time we pray, I invite you to make this Shabbat a time of rest. After a week like this, when the President of the United States has so unwisely and so hatefully invited anti-Semitic tropes of disloyalty upon us, we need to remind ourselves and each other of that to which we must always be loyal – and since Haman we’ve known that it’s not authoritarian dictators.
Our parashah continues:
וּמַלְתֶּ֕ם אֵ֖ת עָרְלַ֣ת לְבַבְכֶ֑ם וְעָ֨רְפְּכֶ֔ם לֹ֥א תַקְשׁ֖וּ עֽוֹד׃
“Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more” – undo the protective cynicism and the numbing of turning away; practice compassion for yourself and for others at all times.
כִּ֚י יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם ה֚וּא אֱלֹהֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים וַאֲדֹנֵ֖י הָאֲדֹנִ֑ים הָאֵ֨ל הַגָּדֹ֤ל הַגִּבֹּר֙ וְהַנּוֹרָ֔א אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹא־יִשָּׂ֣א פָנִ֔ים וְלֹ֥א יִקַּ֖ח שֹֽׁחַד׃
“HaShem is too great for petty favors and bribes” – no magical thinking and no side bets on foreign passports can save us if we can no longer hold on to the Rock that our ethical community is meant to be.
עֹשֶׂ֛ה מִשְׁפַּ֥ט יָת֖וֹם וְאַלְמָנָ֑ה וְאֹהֵ֣ב גֵּ֔ר לָ֥תֶת ל֖וֹ לֶ֥חֶם וְשִׂמְלָֽה׃ וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
“HaShem upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
How might we maintain the integrity of our ethical community in the face of so much despair? Never mind the end of the world fears we all share; in front of us is a person who needs food, who needs clothing, who needs a human touch. Practicing compassion for another is the only way to keep that life-sustaining channel open for ourselves as well.
The communal and the individual. Ekev tish’m’un, as long as we are loyal to that which we all are obligated to hear and do, each of us will have something to hold on to.
As it was for our ancestors so may it be for us, the unwavering and comforting sense that it is all worth it when one knows to what one is loyal, that “even though You slay me, yet I believe in You.”