As is our custom, a text from out of the represented faith traditions is read by one clergy member and then reflections are given by another. Rabbi Sharon Sobel of Temple Isaiah shared this text from the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) on which I commented:
These are the obligations without measure, whose reward too, is without measure: to honor father and mother; to perform acts of love and kindness; to attend the house of study daily; to welcome guests; to visit the sick; to rejoice with bride and groom; to console the bereaved; to pray with sincerity; to make peace when there is strife; and the study of Torah is equal to them all (because it leads to them all).
Why try to be religious? Why bother in our day and age? A question we all hear and must all wrestle with. Too many people today confuse religion with the mere performance of ritual, with solely the complexities of theological debate. Too many people who would describe themselves as religious make this mistake let alone the numbers of those who have rejected religion for these reasons – what need have I of religion’s secret handshakes and code words, of its arguments over angels and pins if that is all it offers?
Our text seeks to fix the focus of religious life in the life of relationships – to live with active consideration of the true needs of those around us and to respond to them as best as we can. To be there out of a love for our shared humanity, to celebrate, to mourn, to advocate for, to fight for even, those who need the help of another human being.
And our text, in its last line, adds a revolutionary note to this already valuable lesson. For without it, our text teaches a consideration for others that we might very well learn and practice in any number of venues, through any number of outlets. I don’t need ritual alone to be a good person, and I can certainly do good in this world without being associated with a religious tradition.
Our text does not deny this to be true. But it does reveal to us that care for others through actions like those listed for which there is no fix limit – no minimum that isn’t enough nor a maximum that is too much – by connecting these all to the study of God’s revelation, God’s will, here called Torah – this teaches us what we might not learn otherwise, which is that having been born into life in the first place, we are born in to relationship with it, that this is undeniably our great blessing and great duty – to the world around us, to the people in it, to God the Creator of All, however the Author of the Universe might be understood by us.
And so the true purpose of religion is thus revealed to us – for it to be that system by which we seek to be ever mindful of our duty to Creation to be loving stewards of it. To remember always our human “need to need” and to seek to fill the needs of others and to see in so doing our own needs for purpose and meaning and love to be met as well.
Through our own faith traditions let us study regularly this great truth. Let it open our hearts to welcome others. Others who are not strangers, for no other human being is truly strange to us when we in fact all share the same human needs and wants and the same potential to reach out to others confident in the knowledge that we each have been blessed by God with the ability to contribute our share towards aiding our fellow human beings and aiding Creation itself.
Rabbi Aaron Benson