- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On February 9, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way to Shabbat.
A Chasidic story with useful imagery:
A man died and was brought before the Heavenly Court. When his wrongdoings and good deeds were placed on the scales, his transgressions far outweighed the good deeds he had done. Suddenly a fur coat was piled on the scale containing the good deeds, which then became the heavier scale, and the man was sent to Paradise. On the way, he said to the angel who escorted him: I cannot understand: what did the fur coat have to do with my judgment? The angel replied. One cold wintry night you traveled on a sled and a poor man asked for a ride. You took him in, and, noticing his thin clothes, you placed your fur coat on him to give him warmth. That was the act of kindness that offset your transgressions.
If we can put aside whether places like a heavenly court or paradise exist, not to mention a scale that could truly measure transgressions and good deeds or an escorting angel, we might grasp the significance of kindness. The early Chasidic masters found reason for the value of compassion in the source of the laws of the Torah.
In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, a long litany of rules and laws concerning everything from treatment of parents to dealing with others’ animals to festival observance to taking care of the stranger are laid out. These chapters follow the giving of the Ten Commandments and offer specific details about behavior and the role we each play in the community. At the very core is how we take care of one another.
When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. (Exodus 23:4)
You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes… (23:6)
Don’t oppress the stranger…(23:9)
Most of these laws don’t happen all the time. We can’t predict when we might have the opportunity to act in a kind way and even then, we don’t always know the impact of our actions. So, the Torah lays them out for us like a blanket of compassion and provides a discipline of conduct. It makes no assumptions that what is right and proper is automatically performed, so, it tells us exactly what to do. What it doesn’t offer is the result of this behavior.
At the very end of the portion when the people have the opportunity to respond, they emphatically declare: Na’aseh v’nishmah. We will do and we will understand. It might seem like it would be better to understand before one engages in anything, but that is not what happens. Doing what is right comes first and the comprehension becomes set in our hearts. Another way to understand is that doing what the Torah commands regarding the treatment of others reaps the benefit that the recipient understands the impact of the compassion offered.
The story above of the fur coat offered to provide warmth was the right thing to do, even if he didn’t realize it at the time.
As Mark Twain once quipped: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
When it comes to kindness, the effect might just bring eternal goodness and a place in paradise.
Na’aseh v’nishmah. Let us act with goodness and then we will understand.
Tonight will be a wonderful night of singing and celebrating Shabbat together. Qabbalat Shabbat service begins at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE.
It is also Shabbat Mishpacha (family Shabbat), which includes dinner starting at 5:00 p.m.
Tot Rock for families with children 5 years old and younger begins at 5:00 p.m.
Soul Food Friday for the Riverway Project (20s and 30s) begins at 7:00 p.m.
We continue in the morning with Torah study at 9:00 a.m., which begins with a short service followed by an engaging and accessible discussion.
Connect with me to share thoughts and reflections directly HERE.