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Balance of Power

Friday, 15 March, 2019 - 10:16 am

Words cannot describe the immeasurable pain and grief coming out of New Zealand today.

Put simply, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and communities. They may be on the other side of the world – but it is ultimately our world. We all inhabit one world. Considering the select status that a place of religious assembly ought to have, this hits close to home.

As we read parshat Zachor this Shabbat, the special reading remembering the sinister acts of Amalek, we are reminded of the duty to eradicate evil from our midst.

Without debating the policy aspects, is there anything that is directly in my control that I can do?


The Midrash in this week’s Parsha of Vayikra, which tells the following parable:

A group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself.

His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"

Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!"

It’s easy for us to remember this lesson when it comes to our immediate surroundings – our family, our workplace and intimate social circle. Nowadays, the increasingly smaller global community helps us more deeply appreciate the effect of our actions.

Yet Judaism truly takes it a step further.

In the second verse of this week’s Torah portion we read, “When a man from among you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.” What’s not readily evident in the English translation is that the original Hebrew switches from singular form to plural.

Why the grammatical inconsistency?

The commentaries explain that the Torah is relating a powerful message about our deeds. Sacrifices were offered to atone for sins. The Torah is teaching that when we sin individually the effect is on all of us. We are actually drilling a hole in our collective spiritual boat. And when we offer a sacrifice we achieve merit for the entire Jewish people.

Rambam (Maimonides) teaches that we must take this perspective not only in a negative vein, but also positively.

When we are deliberating a good deed, we should view ourselves, and the entire world as well, as being equally "weighted" with sins and mitzvot. The scale evenly balanced, and any one deed will tip the scale — my personal scale, as well as the global scale. Any one mitzvah can potentially bring change and redemption to the individual and the entire world.

It isn’t only the physical world that exists in the reality of cause and effect, but also – primarily – the spiritual cosmos.

Changing the real balance of power is something tangible that I can – and must – do.

Now let’s get back to reinforcing our global boat.

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