As Passover ends we consider our relationship to freedom, redemption and obligation. We know we want a better world, one in which everyone is safe, healthy and well-cared for, and we want the same to be true for our Earth.
This week’s special Passover Torah portion, Deuteronomy 14.22 – 16.17, offers us the opportunity to examine how we live our lives in relationship to the Eternal and one another. We are implored to learn to revere the Eternal and demonstrate that reverence through tithing, rejoicing with and helping neighbors. We are counseled not to be mean or stingy to someone in need in the year
before shmittah, the year in which all debts are cancelled. We are told to remember and do well by the stranger, orphaned, widow and the Levite. In other words, we are commanded to offer love, kindness and compassion with each person we encounter.
The reward for following God’s commandments is blessing. Ten times we read bless, blessing or blessed. What would the world be like if all of us sought to be good for the sake of being good people, as the Torah implores?
The answer is found in the haftarah, Isaiah 10:32-12:6. In these verses, the prophet envisions the messianic age; a peace so strong that “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie with the kid goat; the calf and the young lion will graze together, and a young lad shepherd them… On all of My sacred mount, nothing evil shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to the Eternal One as water covers the sea” [11.6 and 9].
In our day, for most of us, freedom is less about the external constraints precisely because we have amazing ways to constrain ourselves with our personal chametz — the unexamined feelings that hold us back.
Our lack of relationship to our vulnerabilities — shame, failures, disappointments, scares, guilts, scars and/or traumas — can enslave our spirit, thoughts and behaviors better than any external force. We do our best to recover — incorporate the lesson and heal from the pain. Sometimes, we draw the wrong lesson or push the pain away. The result can be we are overly cautious, and limit our choices and our actions. We keep our involvement with others small or controlled and are overwhelmed with anxiety when we feel life is out of control.
Being contracted can also keep us disconnected from our inner self, the Eternal and ongoing creation. Accepting the world with its beauty and chaos, disappointments and love, enables us to see ourselves with more love and compassion. The more love and compassion we have for ourselves, the easier it is to extend compassion to the stranger, orphaned, widow and the displaced person.
In the desire to belong, we can join the mob mocking or threatening or othering another. Or we can belong to the Eternal and our self, standing up for the humanity of the victimized. Every time we choose the latter, we also save our humanity and bring the world one spark closer to Isaiah’s vision of the world being “filled with devotion to the Eternal One as water covers the sea.”
Questions to ponder
What concrete action have you taken in the last week to show yourself love?
For the sake of learning to love yourself as the Eternal expects (love your neighbor as yourself), what one habit would you first need to change?
How are you encouraging self-love in your children?
Hazzan Sabrina Sojourner is the spiritual leader of Revitz House.