This sidra can be summarized like this: God is talking…
There are rules and I am giving them to you. Here they are, you need to follow them. If you do, things will be good for you and if you don’t things will be bad for you. Here are all the things I’ve done for you, and I will do for you. You get this land, all set up with good things that you did not grow or build, you just get them.
IF you do what I tell you.
This basically gets repeated about a zillion times. Over and over, with slightly different phrasing, but the same message. Let’s face it, us Jewish mothers come by it honestly. Skilled nudging can be learned from Torah study.
So here I am, raised in a very intellectual, classical reform, home. I do not relate to this God. In fact, that is my problem with fundamentialist Christians who believe that God looks and talks like us, and talks directly to them telling then that they are doing it the right way and all the rest of us are going to hell.
So, how does someone whose concept of divinity leans much more toward the ineffable than the anthropomorphic deal with a portion like this? The only possible approach is to see it as metaphor. A metaphor for what?
Having mulled this over for a long time, mostly while commuting, I have concluded that it is about community. That is so relevant today because most what we see in the media and popular culture is about individual needs and wants. How do I win? How can I beat out the next guy for more money, for the better looking mate. How to I get the better car? How do I actualize myself? How do I get to be the last one on the island? In short, how do I get?
This sidra says, it’s not about you. It’s about guidelines, rules, a system that allows us to function in community. It’s about giving rather than getting. It’s not about moral relativism, but about moral reality. This portion is the antithesis of the “whatever feels good” approach to life. It tells us that unless we function as a community, bad things will happen.
In this world, so different from the world in which these words were written, the community in which we have to function is truly a global community. If we fail to create a system of guidelines that will allow this country and this planet to function as a community we do so at our peril. AIDS and SARS have taught us that we are a community when it comes to health care. Care not provided to all puts everyone at risk. Poor education for some, puts the progress of this country and this world at risk. Environmental neglect and destruction by the few, put all at risk. Restricted civil liberties for some, put everyone’s civil liberties at risk.
This sidra is about the dangers of selfishness and about redemption through community. May we strive toward creating community in our homes, our villages, our country and our world. Ken Y’hi Ratzon. Amen