Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ki Tavo - Complaining

Image result for free image complaining
You may have heard me tell this story before.  Once I was at an interfaith Thanksgiving service, sitting next to a fellow rabbi, listening to the minister who was giving the message for the evening.  He referred to, “how there is always that one person in church who complains about everything.”  Turning to each other, without missing a beat the other rabbi and I said at the same time, “they only have one?”

Ki Tavo, our Torah portion this week, provides for us an insight into the Jewish love for complaining.  In Deuteronomy 29:4 it says, v’lo natan Hashem lachem lev lada’at v’eynaim lirot v’oznaim lishmoa ad hayom hazeh, “Yet not until today has the Lord given you a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear.”

The Torah commentator Rashi explains to us what this refers to.  Moses gave the copy of the Torah he had written to the tribe of Levi to keep.  The other tribes came to Moses and complained – why was he giving it only to them and not everyone? 

What was Moses’ reaction?  Rashi says he rejoiced and then spoke the words of this verse.  Why was Moses happy?  The people, with their complaints, were showing that they cared about the Torah – they wanted it to be theirs!  Sure, they might still be annoying and prone to whining and all that, but the story here is Moses was able to see past all that and recognize that the Torah really did matter to the people. 

That is perhaps why we Jews do so much complaining, complaints mean you care – that things matter! 

I hope I hear a lot of complaints from you all because it will mean you are concerned with things.  And if ever I offer a complaint to you, well, I hope it will be for the same reasons!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Parshat Ki Tetsei - Finding Lost Relationships

Image result for ox image free

There is a beautiful lesson in our Torah portion, coming from the rule that teaches us we must help our friend’s stray animals if we see them wandering off, lo tireh et shor achicha o et seh’oh nidachim, v’hitalamta mehem, hashev t’shivem l’achicha – don’t see your brother’s ox or sheep go astray and hide from it, surely you will return them to your brother.”

The Rabbis note that here in the Torah, we speak of the missing animal of a friend of ours, it even says, brother.  Earlier in the Torah we are told much the same thing, but there, we are told it about our enemy and his missing animal.

So what gives?  The Rabbis say, it is quoted like this, one time saying enemy, the other friend, in order to teach us that in taking on the obligation of returning the animal, we should further seek to undo whatever stands between us and make our one-time enemy our friend.

One who fulfills the mitzvah of returning the lost animal, gains the opportunity to return something else that was lost also, the broken relationship can be returned to how it was before.  While we may not have so much opportunity for returning lost animals these days, the chance to help someone in need can often be just the medicine necessary to heal a hurt relationship, I know I have found that to be the case in my rabbinic work and I suspect others of you might have as well.  You pay the shivah visit or you say “shabbat shalom” to that one person and suddenly, they aren’t so bad anymore, and whatever was wrong between you starts to disappear. 

So, don’t let the oxen be what throw you off from learning the lesson here.  Had the Torah been written today I’m sure it would have said “smart phone” instead.  The lesson is the same; we can restore what is lost in our relationships if we remain willing to respond to the needs of others, whoever they may be.