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Friday Night Sermon: "The Humanity of Judaism" 4/26/2019

This week’s Torah portion for Shabbat is the second Passover/Shabbat portion. Since Pesach is eight days, when it starts on Shabbat, there are two special parashats. One would naturally expect that each portion has some application to the festival. Interestingly enough, on the surface, it does not.

This week’s special Torah portion comes from the book of Deuteronomy. It starts off discussing the various tithes that will be required of all the Israelites once they settle in the Promised Land, and then reviews the various pilgrimage festivals. Since Passover is one of the times when the Israelites would travel to the Temple (along with Shevuot and Succot), this would seem to be the connection.

What about the idea of tithing, that is, taxing each year to support those in society that are of much lesser means? How does that relate to Passover? What prompted the sages to connect the two?

First of all, consider that Judaism is a philosophy of philanthropy and humanism. Our Torah is replete with commandments and examples to be generous and magnanimous. Our greatest prophets were not high and mighty people but humble servants.

Abraham was the greatest of our sages and had a very intimate relationship with Hashem. He would sit by the entrance of his tent and wait for travelers for whom he could host. The situation in which he entertained the three angels of G-d was while he was recovering from circumcision. He then pleaded for mercy for the residents of Sodom and Gemorrah who were notorious Xenophobes.

Moshe Rabbeinu as well looked to serve others. Perhaps his finest hour was when he pleaded for mercy after the Israelites broke their covenant with G-d and fashioned a Golden Calf. There is also a passage in the Torah which mentions Aaron and the Elders of Israel. Moses is left out. Why? Because he was busy playing host and serving everybody.

Consider our commandments that implore us to be kind to the stranger, help our brother/neighbor, and never to take revenge. These are almost natural tendencies that we, as humans, have. But Hashem knows this and devised the Torah to have us focus on the positive in order to grow and have the positive come out.

So here are the Israelites, having just come from a life of bondage into the promised land where they will be free. They will be able to worship Hashem and live a life of sanctification. They will be influenced to live those commandments and focus on the positive.

The promised land is holy, and we are to be holy to inhabit Hashem’s land. In order to do that, we have to grow and be the best people we can be. But we also have to use the last 210 years of bondage as our reference for what not to do. This portion of the Torah was chosen because in order to inhabit the holy land, we ourselves must be holy.

The rest of this portion for Shabbat goes over the various holidays and festivals that occur over the course of a year. Rabbi Dr. Hertz, who edited our Chumash, has stated that the Jewish year is one big program. We don’t just live our lives, but we live them with a purpose. Our lives are dedicated to serving Hashem. Why? So that we live a righteous life. And what does that do for us?

It keeps our focus on what’s important. Much of that is giving thanks. We have holidays and festivals, as you’ve probably noticed, that seem to have two components. The first is celebrating the bounty of that time of year. In the spring we are grateful for the first fruits, like the barley harvest (ie, the Omer) and in the fall we are thankful for the rest of the harvest (ie Sukkot). Respectively, we also thankful for the giving and receiving of Torah, and G-d’s protection. In the Spring, we also celebrate our freedom, and in the Fall we acknowledge our weaknesses and make a commitment to do better the next year.

#FridayNightSermon #FridaysSermon #TheHumanityofJudaism

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