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Rabbinic Reflections - Parshat Behukotai                            June 1, 2019 -  27 Iyyar, 5779

05/30/2019 03:55:09 PM


How many times have you heard the statement: “Every Jew is responsible for every other Jew?”  We’ve probably all heard it and dismissed the notion as unrealistic.  Being accountable for our entire people would be and enormous responsibility!  It’s hard enough being responsible for just ourselves and our families!  However, the Torah is clear on this concept: we sink or swim together.


We read a troubling section of Torah known as the Tochacha, “the chastisement.” God prefaces the passage with the good stuff (Leviticus 26:3f): “If you follow my laws and faithfully observe My commandments,  I will grant your rains in their season ...” The text continues with a short but comprehensive list of blessings. But, a few verses later, the good will dissipates into a lengthy tirade.  God warns (Leviticus 26:14ff): “If you don’t obey me and do not observe all these commandments ... if you reject My laws ... and spurn My rules ... disaster will befall you.”  Moreover, the more we solidify our negative behavior, the worse the punishments become.


The curses culminate with exile and the desolation of the land of Israel, leading immediately to this horrid state, perhaps the worst “punishment” of all: terror.  Not fear in the sense that we even have a reason to be afraid!  The Torah warns (Leviticus 26:36): “The sound of a fluttering leaf will put them to flight; they will flee as if they were fleeing from the sword; and they will fall, even though no one pursues.”  The text continues (Leviticus 26:37):  “And they will stumble on each other, as before the sword ... even though no one pursues.” Rabbi Shaina Bacharach teaches that as strange as it may seem this is where we learn about our mutual responsibility!


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 27b) explains that one stumbles through the sin of the other, teaching that all are held responsible for one another.  This teaching seems to be saying that one person sins, therefore someone else stumbles and they’re both punished? How fair is this?  Well, it’s not really a question of fairness, but it is a profound statement about the way our world operates.


Rabbi Bacharach expounds:  Let’s look at the “dark side of the force” and how things take shape.  Where did Hitler get his ideas?  Did he just wake up one morning and decide that the final solution was a good idea?  To understand Hitler, we have to go back through European history and a lengthy heritage of anti-Semitism.  We have to specifically look at Karl von Leuger, a mayor of Vienna in the late nineteenth century. Von Leuger manipulated anti-Jewish fervor into his own political victory.  The young Adolph Hitler paid attention.  “One stumbled through the sins of the other” setting off a chain reaction and, inciting others to join them, ultimately leading to the death of millions.  Hitler’s example is dramatic.  However, the Final Solution did not start on a global level.  It started with individuals inciting other individuals with thoughtless words over a long span of history.


She continues: we don’t know where our words will land. For instance, we catch our child stretching the truth. Suppose our reaction is to say: I can’t ever trust you; you always lie to me!  Suppose it happens again, and our reaction is even more forceful; we re-affirm that this child is a chronic liar. The more the child hears that he always lies the more he will begin to assume that’s his make-up. Will he learn that he can’t be expected to ever tell the truth? What then? Will he even bother trying to be honest? Or will deception become a way of life for him and the others he leads astray as he grows? One word itself can be a stumbling block and set off a chain reaction.


This doesn’t mean we ignore wrongdoing in our kids, or in others. Of course it’s not wrong to correct or even punish a child. This was only meant as an example of how one word, one action, can bring harmful results. Moreover, the harmful results don’t end with only one person damaging our world; one sinner influences another into wrongdoing and on and on!


The good news: evil propagates itself this way, but so does goodness!  One kind word or thoughtful action can make all the difference in someone’s life.  And that person, also, goes on to influence others.  As we quoted earlier from the Talmud: “one stumbles through the sin of the other, teaching that all are held responsible for one another,” but the opposite is also true.  My own addition to this maxim:  One grows through the goodness of the other and so impacts others for blessing, which also results in all being held responsible for one another.


A thoughtless, angry word could incite a potential Hitler, but a kind word, or thoughtful gesture, could inspire a person to strive to be a tzadik, a righteous, saintly human being.  When we realize that one word, one action, on our part can reverberate through many people for countless generations, we can’t help but realize that the Talmud is correct when it says “All Israel is surety for one another”. May we be worthy of this responsibility!


Shabbat Shalom!

Tue, February 25 2020 30 Shevat 5780