Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Shabbat Zachor: “The Amalek in You”

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Shabbat Zachor: “The Amalek in You” - The Shabbat before Purim is a very important one.  It allows us to fulfill the unique mitzvah, timcheh et zecher Amalek – “you shall blot out the memory of Amalek.” The Torah tells us Amalek attacked the Israelites “when they were faint and weary; and he feared not God.”  He is considered the ancestor of Haman and thus the connection to Purim.
Amalek, refers not just to the tribe of the Amalekites and their descendants like Haman about whom we’ll read on Purim.  Amalek exists in all those who act without respect for God and God’s people and God’s will.
While we don’t like to think of it this way, the spirit of Amalek can even infect us, God forbid, Jews, who should be the very people who know best to fear the influence of Amalek!
How is this?  The Seer of Lublin, a Hasidic rabbi, points out the following.  He says, “A person can be faint and weary because of the different afflictions and fasts he imposes upon himself, and nevertheless not fear God.”
What we must remember, (when we remember to blot out Amalek), is exactly this. 
We must always have respect for God and God’s will.  And never become so sure of ourselves that we know the answers behind what God wants.  We must always be a little humble and a little careful, and not let ourselves become too impressed with our own goodness. 
As the rabbis point out, Im lamadta Torah harbeh, al tachazek tovah l’atzmecha, ki l’chach notzarta.  “If you’ve learned much Torah, don’t claim credit for yourself, because you were created for this purpose.”
Constantly search yourself and your actions so that you will be able to blot out any trace of Amalek’s nature within yourself and be wholly dedicated to the service of God.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Civil Blessing - Parshat Mishpatim

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Good civic-minded citizens, those who think about the community and not just themselves, who try to marry past, present, and future considerations together, who have big dreams but don’t allow them to be the enemies of what is realistic to accomplish, – our country, our community, our congregation, could use more people like that.
And people like this are who our parshah, Mishpatim, has in mind when it says (Exodus 22:27): Elohim lo t’kalel v’nasi v’amcha lo ta-or.   “You shall not revile a Judge, nor shall you curse a leader among your people.”
How does this apply?  Let us take it apart and see.
Last week we read the Ten Commandments, this week we encounter what could be called the “civil laws” of the Torah – yet I contend that it is in our civil laws that we measure just how much God’s presence is reflected in our lives because such laws govern how we treat each other and, how we treat the least powerful among us.  
Caring for others – their physical, educational, emotional and spiritual needs – that is what this whole portion is about – how to do that properly.
This rule then, about not cursing or reviling those who take on active roles in the community (and let us recall that most religious leaders in the Judaism of old were professionals in some other field and “volunteered” for their religious duties) is an extra reminder that the one serving the community is at particular risk for attack by others, and so the comment here is an extra warning – don’t curse anyone, especially those who get involved.  I believe this is a danger in the America of today in which we are so polarized, good-hearted people may be wary to get involved and that is a sad thing to be sure.  
What’s more, as some of you may have noticed about this verse, it says, Elohim lo t’kalel, literally it, “God… you shall not curse…”  However, in this case, as happens elsewhere, we Jews read it not referring to God, but human judges (for example Rashi, who says, l’kil’lat dayan) – who are sometimes called by the same word.
Thus, our final lesson is the most important – the one who gets involved, the leader, the judge, the volunteer, shares a role – as our verse suggests, with God.  When you volunteer, get involved, do something for others in the country, community or congregation, then you are acting as God’s agent in the world – causing miracles and bringing God’s will to be.
Someone shared with me a quote attributed to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  It touches on what we are discussing and with it I’d like to close: “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete.  But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is yourself that needs repair.”