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righteousness

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Tol'dot:The Ethical Actions of Authority (Genesis: 25:19-28:9)


After a hiatus to focus on life pursuits I’m back to tackle the torah!

In our Lives:
I think the shock of hearing about unethical news in our lives comes from our own struggles with what to do when faced with tough ethical decisions. Do we stand up for what is right, or hope it fades into the background (and that no one notices)? The news lately has been a series of tragedies and lies: The Penn State scandal, presidential candidates fumbling their way through policy positions they don’t seem to understand, big banks continuing to post record profits, or the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme we have seen questionable ethics. We have seen the use of power and authority in our government acting unethically or amongst private companies who don’t look out for the best interests of even their employees!

Reflecting:
When we hear of such news we wonder if we ourselves would act better? How are we educating future generations? Are we teaching (by example) to only look out for ourselves? Do we consider how these acts of deceit effect others? Ultimately it seems the truth inevitably comes out but at what sacrifice? For me, when thinking through decisions where ethics are at play I like to think that I consider who will get hurt, what would by the favored outcome, and is it “just”? Not all decisions are easy but all should treat people fairly. And I think the consequences should adequately reflect appropriate punishment for unethical choices. Otherwise we are simply letting power breed power in our society. And if you aren’t sure what to do heed my mother’s advice “you get more flies with honey” it works every time!

Occupy wall street has been an interesting way to think about the consequences of treating US citizens indifferently by big businesses. While I am unclear of their demands and the common message they represent it is clear that Americans are unhappy. The economic gap has grown to 99% vs. 1% where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer and some of those in power are seeing to it that this discrepancy remain. Occupy wall street and other Occupy movements are working to regain the people’s right to democracy, to voters views mattering and being heard. The popularity of this movement has signified to me that injustice has consequences and people have re-recognized their ability to hold others accountable for their actions.

From the source:
The upcoming parshat this week Toldot deals with the story of brothers Jacob and Esau and with common themes of stealing, hatred and lying. But the plot runs deeper as the lies are intentional and done with power by authority. Rebekah, mother of twins Jacob and Esau tricks her husband Issac into giving the birthright to the younger son Jacob since he is her favored son (and Rebekah thinks more deserving of the blessing). Rebekah, acting authoritatively in her roles as wife and mother lies and aids Jacob in stealing the birthright. But as a result of this act Jacob must leave his family due to what he has done and Rebekah is without her favored son. I think this can serve both as a lesson to those with power to act ethically since the consequences of selfish acts can be grave, and to those without power to not just go along with what the authority says but to stand up for justice and to ask yourself if the act is ethical and if not what you can do about it! While the reasoning behind Rebekah’s acts may be for a more favorable outcome of Issac’s blessing. I am more concerned with the lying and deceit that those with power partake in (as shown above). If in fact Jacob was the better son to receive the birthright then it should have been bestowed upon him because of his merit and not by way of an unethical act. Jacob is the one who is held accountable for Rebekah’s actions not Rebekah even though she assured Jacob this would not be the case. These actions seem similar to Americans having to carry out their promises to banks or fulfillment of laws even though the banks and the rules keep changing and not upholding their end of the deal. It cause me to question if those in authority don’t even lead by example who will?

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Vayikra and Tzav: The search for righteousness through sacrifice.


In Our Lives:
Sacrifice. What does the word even mean? In today’s definition, is a sacrifice more similar to a compromise or a selfless act of justice? What do we ‘sacrifice’ these days? We may find giving up our most valuable possessions of our time, food, money, goals, or our own needs may feel sacrificial. If this is the case, are sacrifices even quantifiable?

When it comes to self-sacrifice there are those who keep everything to themselves and look out for only his/her self. Then there are those who are too giving to the extreme that they forget even their own needs. Both for the self-centric and the extreme giver, I often think we need guidelines for how to maintain a healthy balance of the sacrifices we each make in our lives in order to maintain a caring community and larger global society while still fulfilling our own needs.

Reflecting:
When learning a Jewish practice called Mussar I engaged with rituals/ mitzvot (teachings) such as patience, and equanimity. The main idea was that each of us has an inclination towards good and an inclination towards evil or yetzer hatov, and yetzer hara. By engaging with this Jewish social justice practice of Mussar, one could balance between the two inclinations. This was done by asking yourself the question; ‘how am I serving the other?’ This question allowed me to consider the struggle of the other and to self-evaluate my reactions by accounting for how the other may or may not feel cared for in the situation. What is the other person’s burden? Just in asking yourself this questions requires a more sympathetic approach, and the ability to best serve the other.

From the source:
As we turn to a new book of Moses, Leviticus, we learn from the past two weeks torah portions (Vayikra, and Tzav) the value of sacrifice in biblical times. I dare to say the language surrounding the meaning of a sacrifice has changed quite a bit from what it is today. The torah shows the ways in which Jews became closer to G-d through the acts of these animal offerings. Today, instead of object sacrifices, we may offer our evil inclination as sacrifice. We may sacrifice this innate selfish or evil impulse in the hope of achieving either connection with G-d, our people, or in a broader sense in our goals of achieving global justice. A commentator on Vayikra states, “Those individuals who perform a single mitzvah draw themselves and the entire world toward righteousness.” Another commentator citing, “ When we want to draw close (l’hitkarev) to G-d, we must offer something of our own, that is, our ‘evil inclination.’” [1]

May we each continue to sacrifice for others in our lives in the hope that our actions will bring us closer to a more just, and righteous world.


[1] Comments this week come from The Torah A Women’s Commentary edited by: Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (pg. 588)

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