Shabbat Ekev: How To Be Loyal (not to Haman but to Life)

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.”

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Shabbat Ki Tisa, and Shushan Purim: Sowing Hate is a Form of Murder

Well, we’ve heard the Megillat Ester, and Shabbat Ki Tisa is upon us, and we haven’t learned much yet, apparently.
I find myself much dismayed. Incidents come to my attention. Haman is still among us, and inside of us.
You, who believe you need not check your hypocrisy, because that there’s no way that the sin you accuse in another can possibly touch you.
You, who betray your words of caring for our community with careless acts that show you consider its true worth to you to be beneath concern.
You who think so little of the love another has for our community, giving endless volunteer time and heart, that you treat them without courtesy.
Causing harm to another’s reputation or name, causing embarrassment to them in any way within a community, refusing in our righteous anger to give the benefit of the doubt, is judged by our Jewish legal tradition to be a sin akin to murder.
This week in the parashah we see that when our commitment to each other is not strong, when we start to undermine the gentle, vulnerable bonds of trust that holds our community together, there is great harm, perhaps irreparable, that we do to each other. The sin of that small gold bull caused not only the actual deaths of many involved, but the death of that community’s hope for true unity on their way forward into the wilderness.
The wilderness is still there to be crossed; we can’t avoid that. But we can work a little harder to treat each other with decency, if not to “love your neighbor as yourself” if that’s too difficult for you right now, at least to consider “that which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” Both are foundational ethical teachings demanded of you as a Jew.
Purim is still with us; that holy day that the Rabbis suggest is actually much more significant than we realize. An ancient teaching points out that on the other end of the year, as fall begins, we observe a day the name of which can literally be understood as “the day which is like Purim” – Yom ha-Kippurim. Purim, our teachers suggest, is a day of considering the value of life, how we live it, at what cost, and the masks we need to finally stop wearing if we are to face each other honestly. A covenant relationship thrives on no less than this. Those with exit strategies in place if things don’t go their way are not speaking the language of Jewish covenant.
Today is Shushan Purim, on which Jews celebrate the holiday who lived in cities which were walled at the time of the Purim story. Perhaps that’s the best day for us to observe it, those of us who are still insisting on walls between us and those with whom we share what is supposed to be a covenant community where we learn to work on the essential human values of trust and love.
Haman is not some caricature; it is the part of you that does not stop to think of the hurt you cause another when you feel justified in your act. Who are you to choose not to risk trust? What will it take for each of us to figure out how to blot out the selfishness of the yetzer hara’ within us, that focuses only upon our own well-being?
This Shabbat, the Torah calls out to us to learn from what are too many examples of selfishness and blindness in our people’s past, and consider the real damage each of us can do unless we are ready to really learn this truth we have been taught to repeat from an early age.
Forgive as we would be forgiven,
extend the courtesy that we expect to receive,
and be kind; be kind; be kind to each other.