Last week in the Torah we got the Big Ten; the Ten Commandments that have shaped all of western civilization’s ideas about what it means to be a good Jew and good human being. This week we get some pretty famous and pretty important laws too. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Laws about capital punishment. Laws about feeding the hungry, protecting the widow, the stranger and the poor.
But the truth is, this week we also get a lot of laws in the Torah that wouldn’t even make it into Division Three let alone the Big Ten. Laws about pot holes, about what happens if someone’s tooth gets knocked out in a fight. Laws about how not to cook a goat. Laws about interest rates, sorcery, bestiality, road kill and even what we are supposed to do if we see an over loaded donkey struggling to stand up.
Thou shalt not murder. I get. Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, honor your father and mother, thou shalt not covet—the big ten I get. But helping your neighbor, even your neighbor you don’t like, pick his over-loaded donkey up—really? Is that what Torah is all about?
The two greatest figures in all of Judaism are Abraham and Moses. Each of them was called by God and each of them answered the same way—heneni—here I am. We too are called by God, today and every day, to reach beyond ourselves, to think beyond our own sorrows, to those of the person sitting next to us and to strangers on the other side of the world we will likely never know.
In the Talmud, our sages asked, “Where shall we look for the messiah? Shall the messiah come to us on clouds of glory, robed in majesty and crowned with light?”
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi put this question to no less an authority than the prophet Elijah himself.
“Where," Rabbi Joshua asked, “shall I find the messiah?”
“At the gate of the city,” Elijah replied.
“How shall I recognize him?”
“He sits among the lepers.”
“Among the lepers?” Cried Rabbi Joshua. “What is he doing there?”
“He changes their bandages,” Elijah answered. “He changes them one by one.”
That may not seem like much for a messiah to be doing. But, apparently, in the eyes of the sages, it is a mighty thing indeed. Reaching out, one by one, to those who suffer, is a holy act.
We all are so overburdened sometimes that we cannot stand on our own. If you have ever had cancer, surgery, a business problem; if you have worried about one of your kids, or had a car accident, financial stress, or felt alone, you know what someone saying “Here I am,” means.
Today, the Torah reminds us to be that someone even in, especially in, the midst of our own busy and sometimes heavy lives. Sure, lifting others up one at a time might not seem like much, because it’s not much. It’s everything…
Love and Shabbat Shalom,