This is a powerful Torah portion. How can it not be with the 10 Commandments repeated (5) and the Sh’ma (6:4). Torah study classes this Shabbat will have their hands full. As I was looking at some comments for this week, I came across an essay by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his “Essays on Ethics” on this portion. Sacks pointed out a text that is ofteh overlooked. It is from chapter 6, verses 17 and 18. Moses again speaks to the people reminding them to keep God’s statues and commandments. The text continues by saying: ” And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of God”. Would not following the statues and commandments automatically indicate that we acted as to what is right and good?
Rashi notes that this means “the moral obligation to go , when necessary, beyond what is legally required”. This reminded me conversation we may have had when we were younger with our parents or a person of trust, as well as incidents within our own family. This is when we are concerned about a decision that we must make that will impact us and others. We may know what the legal thing to do is, but we may still be concerned and so the answer was usually in the context of “you will know the right thing to do”. How? Check your feelings!
Rashi is correct here. Think back on our own lives. How many times have we been in a quandry about a decision. We knew what we “should” do, but still we were challenged. How many times did we act or suggest that the “right thing to do” may be beyond the “should” and on to “I need”? It was and is based on the context. Judaism, as we have noted before, is a religious civilization that understands the reality of context. Looking back on our own lives, how many times did we make a decision not based on an abstract concept but on the context of the situation, knowing that in that context it was the right thing to do!
I think this also speaks to the truths we learn as we age. Flexibility in life is a valuable lesson. The ability to live within the context of a moment may allow us to adapt our lives and, even decisions, to the context of that moment. The decisions we make, drawn from the foundation of our Jewish ethics and morals, can serve us well and allow us to know what the right thing to do will be in whatever context we may find ourselves.
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.