Thursday, August 21, 2014

Parashat Re'eh: Is Poverty Eternal?

Out of the wide range of subjects in this week’s Torah reading I will focus on two textual puzzles. 
‎The first relates to Deuteronomy 12:28 “Observe and hear all these words which I command you, ‎that it may go well with you… when you do what is good and right in the eyes of YHVH your ‎God.” The simple meaning of the verse, like many others in Deuteronomy, is to encourage keeping ‎the commandments despite the difficulties involved. 
Are “the good” and “the right” synonyms or ‎do they represent different concepts? Many traditional sources quote a disagreement between Rabbi ‎Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael, in which Rabbi Akiva states, “Good in God’s eyes and right in human ‎eyes,” while Rabbi Ishmael says opposite. The disagreement is a bit strange because the verse is ‎quite clear, “in the eyes of YHVH your God.” 
However, it does point towards a difference in the ‎human and divine perspectives. Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein in the Torah Temimah develops the ‎idea and explains, “Something that is incomplete cannot be called ‘good’ even if it seems good at ‎the beginning. Therefore, things that seem good to us can only be called ‘right,’ because calling ‎them ‘good’ requires knowing the future, which is beyond human capabilities.” 
To this Prof. ‎Yeshayahu Leibowitz adds, “We must consider this seriously because many people who certainly ‎had good and pure motives have done harm to themselves and those around them…” I do not know ‎when he wrote this and to whom he was referring but there is no doubt that this does happen. 
‎Therefore, we must act cautiously, taking the longest, broadest perspective we can manage; it ‎behooves us to proceed cautiously because we lack a divine perspective as to the final results of our ‎efforts.‎

However, taking due caution must not prevent us from taking an active role in the world, as we can learn ‎from Chapter 15, where we find two opposite statements about the future socioeconomic situation. ‎In verse 4 it says, “There shall be no poor among you,” but in verse 11, “and the poor shall never ‎cease.” Some of the information necessary to resolve the contradiction is found within the same ‎section, “You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; ‎because therefore YHVH your God will bless you in all your work (verse 10).” ‎

Does this mean that elimination of poverty is a reward that God grants for keeping his ‎commandments? 
I think not. There is a blessing in keeping the commandments but the end of poverty is not ‎a prize, but rather a direct result of keeping the commandments that are enumerated in this chapter ‎and elsewhere: tithes, agricultural gifts to the poor, sabbatical years, including the needy in holiday ‎celebrations etc. We may not wait for a heavenly solution for problems when the necessary tools ‎have been placed at our doorstep. We need to pick up the tools and use them.‎
In immediate situations of crisis, the commandment is clear and can be implemented as written: “If ‎there be among you a needy person, one of your brethren, in any of your gates, in your land which ‎Adonai your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand… (verse 7).” ‎However the large-scale tools, the Bible’s systemic solutions, like the sabbatical year and agricultural ‎gifts, need to be adapted to modern economies. Leibowitz addresses this in another article: “The ‎reality of recent generations is one that the classic Jewish tradition could not have anticipated. All of ‎our social, economic and political problems require new thinking. 
Note the word “require.” We ‎have an obligation to deal with the problems, to make an effort to eliminate poverty and close social ‎gaps, we cannot ignore suffering or postpone difficult questions to a more convenient time. The ‎ways of dealing with these problems must be clarified in civil and political frameworks, without ‎whitewash or prejudice. The Torah commands that gifts be left for the poor during every harvest – ‎meaning during every production cycle – while tithes and sabbatical years occur at regular intervals. ‎We, too, must make the effort necessary to bring God’s blessings into the world even when there ‎seem to be constraints that might justify a postponement.‎
Kehillat Hod Vehadar 2012

Monday, August 18, 2014

שוויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד

אפשר להתפלל עם הכוונה:
"שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד" (תהילים טז:ח).
אפשר להתפלל עם הכוונה:
הֲרֵינִי מְקַבֵּל עָלַי מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁל: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוךָ (ויקרא יט: יח).
 כוון שרעיך (כמוך) נברא בצלם, 

זה בעצם שני צדדים של אותו המטבע

או שיקוף. 

אינני מפרשת או מרחיבה אלא מציעה רעיון ל-תעשה זאת בעצמך

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Shabbat Hazon: Zion will be Redeemed by Justice

It is often said that this week’s Haftarah (Isaiah 1:1-27) which is always read on the Sabbath before Tisha b’Av, relates to the destruction of the Temple rather than the Torah reading. Yet, Isaiah’s vision can actually be seen as relating to the entire book of Deuteronomy, not only this week’s reading. In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses the generation of the wilderness, just before they are to enter the land of Israel. There is no doubt of their legitimate right to the land but he warns and reminds them that their inheritance is not unconditional, rather it is contingent on loyalty to God and adherence to the Torah.

Isaiah refers to the people he addresses as survivors (v. 9), without whom all would be lost, not unlike the founding generation of the State that included many Holocaust survivors. Yet God declares, “Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime (v. 15).” 

Last week, I received many notices asking all Jews everywhere to say the Shema together at a certain time “for the success and protection of our soldiers.” In response to one such invitation I responded, “Drawing strength from an act of togetherness is good and helpful, as is prayer and praying together. However, anything that smacks of theurgy or the idea that a ritual act can change the facts on the ground is dangerous.” Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley answered: “So is pilpul.” I didn’t pursue the matter with him; perhaps he has never met someone like my neighbor who, last time around (two years ago), was convinced that if we all said a specific Psalm exactly at midnight, salvation would come. Life and divine protection are more complicated  than that.

Isaiah is clear: “Though you pray at length, I will not listen… [until you] wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow (vv. 15-17).”

The faithful city Jerusalem is declared a harlot because justice is forgotten, its rulers are rogues and the cases of the weak remain unheard (vv. 21, 23). Yet all is not lost, the people can correct their ways. We, too, must not think that we have an eternal entitlement to this land, regardless of our behavior. Both now, in this difficult time, and surely when it is over, we must turn our urgent attention to righting wrongs and creating a just society for all, for Zion shall be redeemed by Justice, and her returnees in righteousness (v. 25).
7 Av 5774 (2 August 2014)

שבת חזון: צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה

מקובל לומר שההפטרה של פרשת דברים (ישעיהו א: א-כז) שתמיד נקראת בשבת לפני תשעה באב מתייחסת לחורבן הלאומי ולא לפרשה עצמה. אך אפשר גם לראות שחזון ישעיהו כמתיחס לכל ספר דברים, ולא רק פרשה אחת. לאורך כל הספר משה נואם בפני  דור המדבר, רגע לפני כניסתם לארץ. אין ספק שיש להם זכות לעלות לארץ ולהתיישב בה, אבל הוא מזהיר ומסביר שהירושה אינה באה ללא תנאים, אלא מתנת בנאמנות לאלהים וקיום המצוות.
ישעיהו מתייחס לקהל שומעיו כ-"שרידים" (פסוק ט), שבלעדיהם העם כולו היה נאבד, בדומה לדור מייסדי של המדינה, שכלל ניצולי שואה רבים. עם זאת, אלוהים מכריז, "גַּם כִּי-תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה, אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ  יְדֵיכֶם, דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ (פסוק טו)."
בשבוע שעבר, קבלתי הודעות רבות המבקשים מכל יהודי, בכל מקום, לומר קריאת השמע ביחד בזמן מסוים "למען הצלחת חיילנו ושלומם." בתגובה להזמנה אחת כזאת הגבתי, "צבירת עוצמה ממעשה של יחד היא טובה ומועילה, כמו גם תפילה אישית וציבורית. עם זאת, כל דבר שמריח מן הרעיון שמעשה פולחני יכול לשנות את העובדות בשטח הוא מסוכן." הרב מנחם קרדיטור מברקלי ענה: "גם פלפול [מסוכן]." לא להמשכתי אתו בנושא, אולי הוא מעולם לא פגש אדם כמו השכנה שלי, שבסיבוב הקודם (לפני שנתיים), הייתה משוכנעת שאם כולנו נקריא פרק תהילים מסיום בדיוק בחצות, הישועה תבוא. החיים וההשגחה אלוהית פועלים לפי כללים הרבה יותר מסובכים מזה.
ישעיהו מבהיר היטב "גַּם כִּי-תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה, אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ... [עד ש-] רַחֲצוּ, הִזַּכּוּ הָסִירוּ רֹעַ מַעַלְלֵיכֶם, מִנֶּגֶד עֵינָי: חִדְלוּ, הָרֵעַ. לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט, אַשְּׁרוּ חָמוֹץ; שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם, רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה (פסוקים טו-יז)." 
הקריה הנאמנה, ירושלים הייתה כזונה כי הצדק נשכח, "שָׂרַיִךְ סוֹרְרִים, וְחַבְרֵי גַּנָּבִים, כֻּלּוֹ אֹהֵב שֹׁחַד... יָתוֹם לֹא יִשְׁפֹּטוּ, וְרִיב אַלְמָנָה לֹא-יָבוֹא אֲלֵיהֶם. (פסוקים כא, כג).
עם זאת, לא הכל אבוד, העם יכול לתקן את דרכיו. גם לנו אסור לחשוב שיש לנו זכות נצחית לארץ, שמגיע לנו על אף התנהגותנו. בתקופה קשה זו ובוודאי לאחר מכן, אנחנו חייבים להפנות את תשומת לבנו בדחיפות ליישר את עוול וליצר, חברה צודקת לכל, כי צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ, בִּצְדָקָה (פסוק כז).
ו באב תשע"ד