Friday, February 24, 2006

Good Rules Make Good Neighbors

OK, here’s what happens – last week was all about the 10 Commandments (or, as we learned, the “10 Statements” or better, “10 Declarations”) - Nice, pat, symmetrical list that you can count on the fingers of your hands.

This week, however (Exodus Ch 22-23), we are flooded with all kinds of rules about how to treat other people. Here are a few highlights that can make interesting table talk.

1. There are four kinds of damages that people accidentally cause: The Ox, The Pit, The Fire and The Person. Can you figure out what is unique about each one, and what are examples in our world of each? (hint: think about active v. passive damage, etc.). When you get to the point where you realize that there are multiple ways that an ox damages – by trampling (the normal way an ox walks), by kicking (because it’s angry) and by eating (because it’s hungry) - then you are becoming Talmudic in your thinking.

2. You know that person in your community who is considered a bad person, whom everyone dislikes because he’s not nice? If you see his wallet, it’s a special mitzva to return it to him – even if he’s careless and keeps losing it. You’re not allowed to pretend you don’t see it. Moreover, if you see him struggling to carry a heavy box and at the same time you see your best friend struggling to carry a box, it’s a mitzva to help the person you don’t like first. “Would you let your hatred outweigh his suffering?”

3. Do you know someone who is a widow or an orphan? There is a special mitzvah to be kind to them that is mentioned in this chapter and repeated later several times. To cause any kind of suffering to an orphan or widow generates really bad personal karma, and the great sages of the past and present all teach how important it is to be extra careful to be kind to widows and orphans.

The story is told about the great Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, who died in 1953. He traveled a lot and always brought his wife a present when he came home. One of those presents was a precious glass vase that she loved. Well, once the cleaning woman (who was a widow) accidentally broke the vase and Mrs. Karelitz was very upset. Moreover, the cleaning woman said it was Mrs. Karelitz’s fault for leaving the vase in a place where it could fall. In those days, Jews who had serious arguments would take their case to the rabbinical court known as “beis din” (in some communities, they still do this today). So Mrs. Karelitz told the cleaning woman, “Put on your coat, I’m taking you to beis dinl”

She noticed her husband putting on his coat, too, and said to him, “That’s OK dear, I can handle this by myself!”

He replied, “You think I’m coming to help you? I’m coming to help her!”

Ask the people at your table if they know any orphans or widows and how we could try a little harder to be nice to these people who have been left alone in the world.

Shabbat Shalom.

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