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Friday Night's Sermon (8/3/2018): Looking out for each other

This week’s Torah portion is “Eikev”. As it turns out, this is also my Bar Mitzvah portion. Moshe Rabbeinu is now starting on his second discourse to the Israelites as they prepare to conquer and settle their new home, the holy land.

Moses reminds them that while living in the “Midbar” or wilderness for the last 40 years or so, HaShem took care of all their needs. They had water and food and protection. Their clothes either remained intact and grew with the children, or G-d provided them with the means and materials to repair and sustain as needed, depending on whether you accept the Orthodox or Conservative versions.

He reviewed some of the incidents from those previous years and said that “you are a stiff-necked people”. In fact, throughout this particular discussion, Moses uses the 2nd person plural pronoun. This is interesting since he is speaking to people many of whom hadn’t even been born yet.

So why use the plural “you” form in his address?

This is the theme of this portion. The portion ends with the second paragraph of the Shema. This paragraph is the reward-and-punishment paragraph of the Shema, the V’Ahavta being the mercy paragraph. Here, we are told that if we follow the commandments, life will be good and we’ll be able to take care of ourselves. If we don’t follow the commandments or stray, then the land will not produce its bounty and life will be hard. Again, this is all discussed in the 2nd person plural. The latter part of this paragraph repeats commandments of putting on tefillin and mezuzot that are stated in the first paragraph, but again, in the plural form.

Not only, then, is it each of our responsibility to honor the covenant and adhere to the commandments, but it is also the community’s responsibility as a community to adhere to the covenant. We are only responsible for our own karma, but we are only responsible for the community’s group karma and each other’s actions. We must encourage and ensure that we each “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our G-d”, and we must encourage and ensure that “Clal Yisrael” does what is right as well.

We see this in some of the individual commandments. Not only are we commanded to not gossip, steal or cheat, but we are also admonished not to join in with others in the commission of such. We are also commanded to help our fellow who is stuck on the side of the road even if we don’t like that person. In this portion, too, is the first time we are commanded to love the stranger. This has been interpreted by our sages in modern context that when someone is new to your community, synagogue, work or school, you are supposed to befriend them and make them feel welcome.

The idea of cliques in Judaism is a foreign and unknown concept. Certainly, we all have our circle of friends, but we do not exclude people. We watch over each other.

This isn’t an altruistic notion; it is a commandment. We have seen throughout our history what happens when we follow the wrong path or people. We have seen people join with others in the Wilderness to challenge Moses’ divinely-sanctioned leadership; we have seen what happens when our people fraternize with cultures that mean us harm; we have seen half of our people get conquered and scattered for engaging in idolatry.

We know the consequences of allowing negativity to flourish. By condoning and allowing it, we ourselves are just as guilty as the perpetrators. We suffer the same consequences as they do.

This is why we are warned by the two levels of these commandments. We are told individually and collectively to remember, to put tzitzi’s on our clothes and mezuzot on our doorposts so that we always know to do the right thing, and even more important to encourage others to do the right thing.

For many of us, this is not easy. It is hard standing up to those who follow their hearts and eyes and not the commandments to do the wrong thing. There is a lot of peer pressure that Heaven forbid we stand up to insolence and become ostracized ourselves.

We must always remember that HaShem has our back. As the psalmist said: even though evil seems to thrive, their doom is sure to come for Yours is the ultimate Triumph.

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