“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
The quotation is from Abraham Lincoln, but it could easily have come from the Torah. The writers of the Bible knew that people in power can be tempted to abuse that power. So they wrote commandments that are addressed specifically to those in positions of power.
Of course, that means all of us. Because at one time or another, each person is in a position of power over someone else. So this week’s Torah portion offers a diverse set of laws that are seemingly unrelated, yet which collectively offer a lesson in human interaction.
In case you don’t feel like reading chapters 21 to 24 of Exodus (which comprise parashah Mishpatim), here’s my summary of the commandments therein:
Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t be cruel.
Don’t take advantage of people.
Don’t hurt people, physically or psychologically.
Apologize if you do hurt them.
Make restitution when you screw up.
The underlying message is clear. We interact with other people on a daily basis, and the Torah wants to remind us to be careful with each other.
Children often fantasize about being grown-ups, about being free to do anything they want. They think that being an adult means complete freedom. As adults, we learn that such freedom is both immature and irresponsible.
We are required to abide by the rule of law, and the unwritten rules of society. Because running a red light is not only illegal according to the law books. It also breaks the societal law that we cannot threaten the safety and well-being of others.
The Talmud teaches, kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh, all Israel is responsible one to another. It reflects the basic idea of communal responsibility in Jewish law. Today, we live in a world where Jews and gentiles mingle freely, and so I propose that we emend the saying to read: Kol h’amin arevim zeh ba’zeh, All humans are responsible one to another.
That means taking care of each other and our planet. It means being kind and thoughtful, even when we want to be selfish. It means that we live in a planet-wide community and we have a responsibility to the entire community. And it means that when people in power abuse that power, we must speak out.
I Fashion Styles said:
Fantastic site. Lots of useful information here. I am sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks for your sweat!
Myrna charry said:
It is always a pleasure to read your weekly comments. It is curious that our leaders too often become corrupted by power – no one is born corrupt so what happens to a person who loses compassion and peddles hatred and divisiveness once he/she gains power? This is true of both right and left wing leaders. This has perplexed me for some time.
Maybe if leadership were truly held to common standards of behavior with no exceptions – same privileges, same health care, same salary , etc. I think because leadership covets privilege that they move away (metaphorically) from the people – I do think that no matter what one thinks or thought of Fidel Castro, he made an attempt to remain one with his people and it is why he only wore fatigues as clothing and never lived in a big “white house” – he might have been “on to something!” Until leadership remains connected to those they serve (and on a daily basis) I think we’ll never have a fair and equitable society.
P.S. This is a p.s. to my recent comment- if you’re on Facebook you might want to check out the group: Torah Trumps Hate.
Thanks for this post. I totally agree and have been and will continue to do all I can. At the recent prayer breakfast apparently the president said this country was meant to be a Christian country. As if the praise of white supremacists and fomenting of hate for and violence toward immigrants (particularly those of color) wasn’t enough! May we all have the strength to continue to see what is true and all work together to save our country and teach the young to follow those who are good and kind.
Once again you have spoken in terms to which we can clearly relate. Your extension of the Hebrew text is right on the mark. Thank you for starting my day with inspiration, and even hope.
SRQ Jew said: