Monday, September 22, 2014

Do Not Live Amongst a Talebearer, A Lesson of What is Really Important in Jewish Law

I find it fascinating that according to Jewish Law, we are specifically proscribed from living amongst and participating in social interactions with those who gossip. Yet, not only are we NOT adjoined not to live with those who believe differently than we do or who do not observe Kashrut or Shabbat, but rather, there are long discussions throughout Jewish law about how we interact with these neighbors, how we are to do business with non-Jews in a scrupulously honest matter, and so forth .

Let’s really think about this a bit. For example, in learning about how one creates an intentional community (as described in Masechet Eruvin) there are long discussions about the inclusion of property owned by non-Jews in communities where Jews reside and need to negotiate movement on Shabbat, about how one can or cannot take over ownership/rights to such property in business arrangements, with the approach of Shabbat, no less, and how one can or cannot carry and move things in a community with mixed populations. This is all to say that we have always understood a couple of basic truths:

1. We will live in areas that have mixed populations of Jews and non-Jews.

2. There are regulations that we must follow to maintain both the integrity of those relationships and the adherence we, as Jews, have to a life of MITZVAH individually as well as collectively.

3. These regulations are designed to maintain our own community as well as good relations with others, as we are told elsewhere that we should always give some of our resources (Tzedakah) to non-Jewish causes, we are not to take advantage of ANY human being in our midst, and so forth.

As I often teach my students, we cannot be an OR LAGOYIM in the corner of ME’AH SHEARIM – think about the statement. In other words, we HAVE to be part of the big vast world in which we live in order to truly have an impact on it. This is truly a responsibility. It means finding ourselves in spaces in which keeping Kashrut or Shabbat might be a challenge, but this we do. Further, we are to do it without compromising the integrity of others in our midst, for ALL HUMAN BEINGS, according to our belief as Jews, are created by THE CREATOR of all!

WHAT WE ARE NOT TO DO is to become insular and subject to the ills of society such as tale-bearing, gossip and doing damage to others around us in use of our words, our business practices and any other of the “24/7 Mitzvot” that govern the very way we live our lives with consistency and in the spirit of Mitzvah. We are enjoined to follow this practice both in terms of other members of the Jewish community and all members of society.

In the Jewish world, we find ourselves in the period of Selichot for ALL of us at this point, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, Jews of all ideological movements, and so forth. Take a moment at some point to really look at the Vidui and notice HOW MANY of these missed marks in our lives are about these 24/7 Mitvot. Then notice how Religion too often in our fractured world has such a bad name due to extremist expressions, which unfortunately do plague ALL of our religious groupings. Look back at the Vidui. Imagine (in the words of John Lennon) if we would all truly observe these practices – that is stop ourselves before spreading a rumor, hurting someone else with our words, speaking falsely, and participating generally in such activity either actively or passively.

IMAGINE… what such actions would do to curb bullying, help our fellow human beings feel better about themselves and maybe eventually others as well, and change the tone and the impact of our interactions with others. What steps we would all be taking to truly heal our fractured world – to do the real and dedicated work of TIKKUN OLAM.

As 5775 is ready to dawn, let us all imagine what a world we could all help to make if we continue to work on our personal religious and ritual selves as well as intentionally create community with those who will heal it and not compromise the collective. Shanah Tovah U’Metukah to all and may this coming year be a one of healing words and actions for all of us.

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