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Hazzan Steve's Message

May 18, 2022

Security/Trust/Abundance or Fear/Hatred/Scarcity?

Another week, another mass murder. That I can write that without a trace of irony makes me want to weep. What I have to say next is about Torah; I leave sorting out the political implications to you. Please stay with me.

I take it as a given that mass murder is a manifestation of hate. I understand that the basic human emotional states are mad, sad, glad, and afraid. Hatred is not on that list, because hatred is not itself an emotion. Hatred, rather, is learned behavior; hatred is taught and hatred is something you do. This is not what Torah means when it says “teach them diligently to your children”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar, we read about shmitah and yovel, a cycle of seven years in which the seventh is a year of Shabbat for the land, and a cycle of seven sevens in which the fiftieth year is the jubilee. In the jubilee year, among other things, land ownership reverts to something like the original land division among the Israelite tribes and the tribal families. We are told that if we as a community live our lives as described in Torah “you shall live on the land in security” and “the land will give its fruit, and you will eat to the full, and you will live in security on it”.

We should pay close attention when Torah tells us something twice in quick succession, and here in consecutive sentences we are told something about “security”. The word in Hebrew is “vetach”, from a root that has a sense of being physically secure but also is about being unafraid or confident. The word also can mean trusting, and it is that sense that we see in the liturgy (for example in “Ahavah Rabbah” before Shema in the morning prayers). I read all of this to mean that if we are trusting and act for the communal good, we will have security – physical security, food security, and emotional/spiritual security, trust and confidence.

Suppose we fail to act for the communal good? If we are only for ourselves, instead of the abundance that surrounds us and should be available to all in a well-run community we see scarcity (real sometimes, but more often imagined). We might be mad or sad, depending on the circumstances, but we almost certainly would be afraid. We are afraid of being without, so we look and find others to other and strangers to blame. Supposed leaders and influencers, seeking power or wealth or another fix of adulation, teach us to hate. We learn well and teach hatred diligently to our children.

Torah is telling us very plainly how we are to live on the land and with one another. As I said when I began, you do the math on the political implications of this. While it may not be up to us to complete the work, we must not avoid engaging (Pirkei Avot 2:16).

With blessings for a happy and healthy and secure week,

Hazzan Steve

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