What a portion we have this Shabbat! There is a year’s worth of conversation in just one portion. We have a ton of issues around family dynamics and inter-personal relationships; women, captives, divorce, compassion, warfare and more. The dynamics of this portion try to create the foundation for a society. How can some of this speak to us?
I want to focus on a few verses. In 22:1-3. we read of the responsibility of people to help restore something that has been lost to the rightful owner. 22:2 is a classic proof text for medical ethics, as we have written before, in that Maimonides associated what has been lost to the health of a person, thus, the phrase “you shall restore it to him” has been used to justify doctors to interfere with nature in order to restore health, which has been lost. Verse 3 continues this dynamic as it says that helping to restore things to people is part of what being in a society is all about and that “you must not remain indifferent” (lo tuchal l’hit’alaim)
What a powerful few words and what an important message for this moment. There is a strong sense of people turning inward. There is also a strong and dangerous feeling of individualism that sees one’s needs as more important than the needs of society. The Delta variant of COVID plus the daily onslaught of negativity in the news has caused so many to shut down. We have lost so much in this past year and a half. SO many have lost more. The economic, psychological and spiritual deficits are profound. Yet, here is this text which seems to say, no matter, you are part of a greater whole and thus you cannot remain indifferent to those in need; those who have lost so much, you shall help restore to them as much as possible.
This feeling, indeed, this text, seems to run counter to much of what we see today in our society. Individualism has taken influence over the needs of the community. This is contrary to our Jewish tradition where the needs of society, the greater good, come first. A quite from Mordecai Kaplan describes this. “Civilization arose as soon as the human being began to sense conflict between his own claims as an individual and those of society” (“A Year With Mordecai Kaplan.” p.194) How prophetic as we are seeing this played out everyday. Again, Torah gives us an insight into proper human behavior, behavior based on a foundation of faith and values. We have that obligation to not remain indifferent to the needs of others, even in the midst of our own challenges. One small step, one act of compassion can help a soul.
Think about this powerful verse from this week’s portion. It speaks to so much of what ails us right now. We are all being called to not be indifferent to society’s challenges. As we move further into Elul and as the Holidays approach, consider how each of us, in our own way, can help create a better, more secure, safe and caring society.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.