Year Started with Machane TBA:
2020 (but grew up with TBANS and Machne TBA through graduation!)
Junior at University of Maryland studying Elementary Education
Listening to music with friends, running, and going on walks
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Butter Pecan and Cotton Candy
Shoftim - 5780
Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
Don’t let the lack of a narrative story or the densely packed compilation of laws and commandments fool you, parashat Shoftim, is all about balance. Balance of power that is.
“Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof … Justice, justice you shall pursue!” declares Moses near the beginning of our portion. [Deut. 16:20] The creation of a just community is one of the core purposes of Torah, and shoftim offers profound clarity on how to succeed – beginning with a separation of powers.
First, we are commanded to establish an impartial justice system, in which judges may not accept bribes. [Deut. 16:19] Second, we are allowed to freely choose our king [executive] with the following limitations in place: the king may not set himself above the people and must look after the needs of the poor, may not amass wealth or power, and is subject to the same laws of Torah as the rest of Israel. [Deut. 17:15-20] Third, the priesthood will remain “in attendance for service in the name of the Eternal for all time.” [Deut. 18:5] In effect, this creates three separate and independent centers of power, which function as checks and balances against each other in the service of creating a just community.
It’s not rocket science, this ancient wisdom, and it is both effective and capable of lasting over the long haul. Perhaps that is why the founding fathers of the United States chose a similar structure for balancing power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. This balance of power has served us well for over two-hundred years. Yet it cannot run on autopilot. In ancient Israel, each of the three branches had to maintain their commitment to their independence from the other branches, to the laws of Torah, and to the people. Today, each of the three American branches must maintain their commitment to their independence from the other branches, to the Constitution (and the same rule of law for all Americans), and to the people.
We are losing our way, but we are not lost. This is the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading to our High Holy Days of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. This is the season of teshuvah, of learning from our mistakes and changing our ways. Each day of Elul we hear the shofar blast, a reminder that there is still time … and that the clock is ticking.
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Re'eh - 5780
This week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Re’eh tells us “If there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need…Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in your work and everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-10)
From a young age we are told of the importance of tzedakah, often understood as giving charity. But tzedakah is much more than charity. Tzedakah means “righteous giving.” Giving tzedakah is not just donating money but rather, acting righteously in the world. “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: Justice, justice shall your pursue.” It is not just a nice thing to do but a Biblical imperative! Maybe there is a reason that so many Jews are lawyers! Pursuing Justice is a core Jewish value. Whether we give generously to organizations that are important to us or offer our time to social causes we believe engaging in tzedekah is our duty as Jews.
When Aaron asked the Israelites to donate all their gold to the building of the golden calf, they did not hesitate. When Moses asked the Israelites to make voluntary contributions to the construction of the sanctuary, they gave so willingly that Moses had to ask them to stop. He had too much! What a great problem to have!
Yet we are reminded this week of our need to respond to the call of social justice and to engage in acts of tzedekah in response to those who could do with our help, even when times are challenging for us. While we instructed not to impoverish ourselves, we are pushed to be generous to those in need-people and institutions.
This is a timely message. On Friday, we begin the month of Elul. Elul is our preparatory month before the High Holy Days. We are asked to reflect on the past year and take a chesbon ha-nefesh, a personal accounting of how well we are doing in our lives. Before we stand in judgment, perhaps before God, perhaps before ourselves and our conscience we have a chance to temper the decree by engaging in Tefilah, Tzedakah and Teshuvah. Prayer, Righteous Giving or Justice and Repentance.
Prayer is not enough. And Repentance is only part of the package. Our actions count. Tzedekah is not just writing a check, it’s the values we believe in and the stands that we take. Re’eh tells us to See, to Look deeper, at issues and to not overlook those in our community that do not have the same freedoms that we have.
May we begin this season of introspection looking deep within ourselves and out into our community to find ways that we can engage in acts of tzedekah, so that all people may live a life of equality and justice and that institutions that we care about can survive in these difficult times.