Posted by: Subway Conductor | June 5, 2020

A Derasha for Parshat Naso

This week’s Torah portion, Naso, contains the well-known blessing that Aaron and his descendants – the kohanim, the priests – were instructed to use to bless the Jewish People. This blessing is also used by parents to bless their children on Friday evenings at the beginning of the Sabbath. It ends with the phrase, “May the Lord lift up His countencance to you and grant you peace.” Shalom, the word for peace in Hebrew really means completeness or wholeness. When one is in a state of completeness with your neighbors then you are at peace. When a community is whole, it is at peace.

Unfortunately, the events of the last week have revealed, once again, the serious fractures in our society.  The prophets of the Hebrew Bible gave the world a vision of a just and righteous society. The prophet Amos said, “Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream and let peace fill the earth as waters fill the sea”. The bold statement in the Declaration of Independence “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men were created equal…” is based on the teaching in the book of  Genesis that man was created in the image of God. In a famous passage, the Mishnah states, “A single person was first created for the sake of peace in the human race, that no one might say to his fellow, ‘My ancestor was greater than yours.’”

The Torah, the prophets, and the Jewish tradition have bequeathed the world a noble vision of a society in which all are treated with dignity – the dignity due beings created in the divine image. Judaism is a life-affirming view of the world that teaches us to hold dear the sanctity of human life above all else. It also demands of us to strive to create a society which manifests these moral teachings.

As American Jews, we can be proud that we live in a country that has done more than any other to realize the vision of the biblical tradition. However, we also are aware that we have not fully brought about the just and harmonious society our Torah envisions. Both as Americans and as Jews, we need to examine our own beliefs and dispositions to cast a light on the prejudices and biases that we individually harbor. It is easy to point the finger elsewhere, let us start by looking at ourselves.

The task of creating a society that lives up to our highest ideals is one that requires constant vigilance and effort. Sometimes it seems as if the task is too great. It may appear that our efforts are in vain. The problems are too engrained and intractable. In response to this frustration, we must focus on what we can do.  I cannot change the world, I can only attempt to make the portion of it in which I live a little better. We can strive to make sure that our interactions with other people model the way we believe human beings should be treated. We can stay civically engaged to play our role as good citizens who help our community to become the kind of place in which we want to live. I would also like to suggest that we look for opportunities to volunteer. We can, each of us, contribute to the building of a better community. Don’t try and change the world, do one thing to make something better.

In Pirkei Avot (1:12) we find that Hillel says, “Be among the students of Aaron, loving peace and pursing peace…” It is not enough to “love peace” we must “pursue it.” It is important to note that the examples given of how Aaron was a “pursuer of peace” are all of efforts he made to bring individuals together to resolve differences.  It is another reminder that we are not able to change the world, but that does not relieve us of responsibility to help those around us. To bring peace, to make our society whole, each of us must play a role.

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