Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Grateful for the Good

 A pivotal word that appears six times in chapter 6, verses 10-25 in the Book of Deuteronomy, is “TOV”-טוב-good-in various forms, as a noun and as a verb.
The one reference that struck me as particularly significant was that verse in which “tov” appears three times: 
“Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you and that you may possess the good land that the Lord your God promised on oath to your fathers.”( Deut.6,18)
The commonplace understanding of “good” in this citation and in many passages of the book of the Torah is that good behavior will be rewarded with good results-a good land, prosperity, security and peace.In other words, the classical theme of reward and punishment is again reiterated in this verse.
I would like to interpret the phrase-’do what is right and good....that it may go well (be good) with you’ differently. The Hebrew-למען ייטב לך-translated as ‘that it may go well with you’ could be translated differently to remove the ostensible difficulty in the theology of reward and punishment and provide an important insight into the nature of human moral development. By doing what is good and right, one’s becomes good, if not better than before. The consequence of moral behavior is not necessarily some material reward, but a spiritual benefit of self-improvement. 
What further reinforces this interpretation  is the comment by the JPS Commentary on verse 24 in which the author points out that the Ramban understood the clause-”for our lasting good”-לטוב לנו כל הימים- ‘to refer to the social laws which by their very nature benefit society.” 
While one can argue that the highest good is to do good for its own sake, a further convincing , perhaps pragmatic, argument for the performance of the good in our lives is the result of emerging as the better person which can bring blessing upon oneself and others and not depend on a more primitive wish for some  extraneous reward from a cosmic Power. When we think of the age old conundrum of “why bad things happen to good people” a partial answer resides in the reality that for good to outweigh the bad goodness contributes to the moral stature of each individual so that in the moral universe only the good can happen to the good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

  Grateful for the message of Aaron the high priest

On Shabbat, our family  makes use of a simple device to enhance the spiritual nature of the day. At the shabbat table, each participant blindly selects two “Angel Cards” and discusses their relevance to her/himself. Angel cards provide key words that help you focus on particular aspects of your inner life. Each word is a human quality which when thought about will echo in one’s life in some way. Meditating on these qualities can help support greater understanding of one’s inner self.
This past Shabbat I selected :”KINDNESS” and “HARMONY! Upon thinking about this choice and discussing the implications with my wife, it became evident that a means to harmony and well being is the pursuit of kindness in one’s life.Indeed, the path to peace is strewn with myriad acts and words of kindness.
 As we discussed this spiritual  connection it occurred to me that the Sabbath Torah reading -Hukat-contained the death of Aaron, the high priest. We are told- “ All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days.”(Numbers 20:29) In contrast, we read in Deuteronomy 34:8,”Israelites(not all of Israel) bewailed Moses.” Why did Aaron’s death touch each and every Israelite in such a way that each one felt a deep personal loss with the passing of Aaron? 
The Sayings of the Sages(Pirke Avot)  has the following passage.  “ Hillel said: Be a disciple of Aaron -loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them to the study of Torah.”( chpt 1:12)
Aaron was the embodiment of these qualities of the Angel cards I had selected. Again and again he resolved disputes and harshness through interventions of kindness and love. The Midrash tells us- “ When Aaron would meet a wicked man, he greeted him warmly. The next day, when the man was about to commit a transgression he would say to himself: Woe is me, how could I ever raise my eyes and face Aaron? I would be too embarassed. Thus he refrained from further transgression.”(ARN 12)

Kindness and harmony, one the cause of the other. My daughter’s contribution to this discussion was invaluable. She pointed out that the angel card suggested another dimension of spiritual betterment ,that which entails the relationship of onself to oneself. It calls upon us to act kindly towards ourselves in order to arrive at some harmony and inner peace. Too often we treat our selves much too harshly and thus increase an inner sense of unhappiness and turmoil. Kindness shown by us to ourselves can only lead to greater serenity, integrity and peace.