I had a friend who lived with a terrible lung disease. She used to say, “God doesn’t micromanage.” I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea that every little occurrence has some meaning beyond what it is. Somehow I just always picture that things land the way they do. The phrase, “things happen for a reason” will not leave my lips. And although I might tease about karma, it’s not really in my belief system. But sometimes….
Any page of Talmud is likely to contain many wide-ranging ideas. After all, it’s an oral record of a conversations that took place over few hundred years, in various locations, before instant messaging and hyperlinks. Sometimes the placement of placement of discussions makes sense in a weird way. I remember studying the laws of how much matzah we need to eat along with Sukkot. The connection? They are both seven-day holidays. And sometimes, you just have to wonder.
Recently, I have been thinking about a piece of Talmud text that I once learned.
“Raba said, When one is led in for Judgement, (when one dies), one will be asked, ‘Did you deal faithfully (with integrity, honestly with others in your business dealings’).”
Do we treat our employees, contractors, babysitters, dog walkers fairly? Do we make promises in business that we do not keep?
I remember learning this text as part of a greater lecture and not from the Talmud page. It turns out that it is from Shabbat 31a, which holds other treasures. On this page, we find another famous text that I also learned independently, without knowing where it came from. This text actually comes first on the page.
A non-Jew comes up to Hillel and says, “Teach me the whole of Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.”
So here I was, at the end of Sukkot, as we celebrate the Torah itself, thinking about the juxtaposition of these two texts. Coincidence? I think not. I believe that they can both be distilled to: treat others the way you want to be treated, whether in personal relationships or in business. A nice thought to remember as we start this New Year.
But, as I read through the papers in the last weeks, I can’t help but notice that there are many who must have missed these texts. During this festival of Sukkot, when we are commanded to invite our ancestors into our sukkot, so many in our nation’s leadership have chosen to leave the neediest among us at the doorway. There are those in Congress who have sought to gut (no pun intended) the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food-stamp program, which helps so many working poor feed their families. For many with one or two or even three low-waged jobs, there salaries aren’t enough. And on top of that, these same so-called leaders are trying their best to defund the Affordable Care Act which aims to do just that, bring affordable care to so many. Those leaders, with their excellent salaries and health care, many of whom quote the bible often enough, seem to have a disconnect between the text that they put their hand on during their swearing in and the actions that the take once they are on the job.
On Simchat Torah, we conclude our reading of the Torah scroll and start anew. In just a few weeks we will read of Abraham and Sarah, and how they welcomed the strangers into their tent. So soon after Sukkot, we are reminded that what we have is not for us alone. As children, one of the first social skills we learn is sharing. I can’t help wonder why as adults, so many of our nation’s leadership has abandoned this simple idea.
Danny Siegel, the noted tzadik and founder of the Ziv fund posed the question, “Why is there no bracha (blessing) for tzedakah.” We have so many brachot, it is a wonder that we do not have one for this basic mitzvah of righteous giving. He says,
“if we are to be constantly aware of God’s Intimate Presence in the world, the very act of Tikkun Olam contains within the act itself a sense of the Divine Presence. Even if we think we are doing it automatically, the Presence is there. We only need to feel its existence.”
Maybe that is our challenge for the new year. Instead of talking about God, let’s just act like God for our actions are godly.