Do I Really Need You?
Theodor Herzl’s consideration of Uganda as an alternate “Jewish Homeland” was rejected for there is only ONE Promised Land. The Israelites’ worshiping of idols was sinfully wrong because there is only ONE G-d. And most pertinent to this discussions is that a nation whose underlying sentiment is that another Jew’s affairs is “not my business,” is deleterious and splintering, for the Jewish people too, are ONE. A fundamental of Judaism, as foundational as the Aleph Bet, is that all Jews are responsible for one another, for we are ONE people.
G-d, His Torah and Israel, i.e., the people and Land are ONE. As such all our destinies are intertwined. Our shared responsibility does not end by donating money to a Jewish cause or planting a tree in Israel; those, however important they may be, are just pretenses to shirk responsibility. And great responsibility beckons us all the days of our lives and every moment of those days. Every sin a Jew makes affects the entire nation and the world. For your adultery, your thievery, your gossip, your lies, your arrogance, every Jew will pay. When it comes to G-d’s laws, we have a very hard to time swallowing this acerbic truth. And yet in our secular lives we get it loud and clear. When a Jewish ball player, boxer, philanthropist, scientist does something great, we beam and aim to bask in their greatness. Ukrainian President Zelinskyy’s resolve and courage made many a Jew proud. When Madoff-like characters rear their ugly corrupt heads, we shrink and hide. We are quite cognizant of the fact that in world affairs the act of one Jew impacts us all.
The Coronavirus was a perfect manifestation of what occurs also in the spiritual realm, it too with serious repercussions. A man coughs in Wuhan and today 6.28 million people are dead. A Jew sins anywhere, and we all are impacted. “Each man will stumble over his brother.” (Leviticus 26:37).
We see early on in the Book of Joshua as the Israelites set out to conquer the land, they are commanded not to take any silver and gold, nor vessels of copper and iron for themselves as they are “consecrated to the Lord.” The Israelites are miraculously successful in their first effort and the walls of Jericho fall to them by the mere blowing of the shofar. In their next battle 36 men die and Joshua is crestfallen and cried out to G-d only to find that one man did not obey the commandment and coveted the gold and silver and took some for himself. The sin of one Jew caused the death of 36 others. I often think about the Israeli soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for us spoiled Jews in the diaspora and when I’m tempted to be lax in observing a mitzvah, I think perhaps their lives are in my deeds. And they are, just as their lives are in our prayers.
In the past I’ve asked on Facebook whether G-d is a punishing G-d or a loving G-d. For the most part respondents feel that G-d is a loving G-d. It is true. But one does not preclude the other. To live life thinking that we can flout G-d’s will and not worry because He loves us no matter what is living in a Disney-like world with feel-good exemption coupons. Anyone who has read the Torah even a single time knows that our behaviors matter. When Adam and Eve sinned, G-d punished them; the generation of Noah sinned, and G-d drowned them; when Cain sinned, G-d punished him; and when it came to Sodom and Gemorrah, G-d destroyed them, and so on and so on. We are not in elementary school where everyone these days gets a gold star for participation. Yes, G-d loves us and that is why throughout the Torah G-d tells Moses, “Speak to children of Israel.” When you care, you remain in dialogue. But unlike humankind, G-d doesn’t talk for nothing.
It doesn’t matter if you are much kinder or better looking than the Jew who wears a black hat, you TOO are mandated to keep Shabbat and kosher. What really makes you “so” nice and kind if the Torah tells us that for your sin other Jews will be punished? Figuratively, if you sneeze, your neighbor will get blown away.
We have to look no farther than this week’s Torah reading, Bechukotai to know exactly what G-d wants from us and what He will do if we don’t listen. If not, well some things are better left said for themselves:
“But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant…I will order upon you shock, consumption, fever, and diseases that cause hopeless longing and depression. You will sow your seed in vain, and your enemies will eat it. I will set My attention against you, and you will be smitten before your enemies. Your enemies will rule over you; you will flee, but no one will be pursuing you. And if, during these, you will not listen to Me, I will add another seven punishments for your sins: I will break the pride of your strength and make your skies like iron and your land like copper. Your strength will be expended in vain; your land will not yield its produce, neither will the tree of the earth give forth its fruit. And if you treat Me as happenstance, and you do not wish to listen to Me, I will add seven punishments corresponding to your sins….” (Leviticus 26:14-43).
It goes on and on, avoid reading at your own risk. If that’s not a G-d you can believe in, well, I don’t think He really cares. He’s not applying for a job interview. But if you do believe in G-d, it’s time to start realizing it’s His will that counts. Yes it's true that G-d made man, but in some measures man has “made G-d” -- for we have a fashioned a G-d that fits our lazy, selfish and ironically godless agendas. Remember that you never sin alone, the whole nation is there right with you. And as Rabbi Hillel famously said, “If I am only for myself, what am I.” The truth is, without your nation, without your G-d, without your Torah or your land, you really are nothing at all. We are one or we are none!