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Indirect Damage

Friday, 30 August, 2019 - 8:04 am

As Hurricane Dorian nears the Florida coast, we pray that nobody suffers any loss of life, health or property. Hopefully, it will turn away or subside.

Even in a best-case scenario there will likely be indirect damage. Sometimes, it’s not the actual storm, but the storm surge, or the subsequent flooding that causes the most damage.

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In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, the Jews are told to destroy and uproot all idolatry upon settling in the land of Israel. The Torah states:

And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place. You shall not do so to the Lord, your G-d.

Why does the Torah need to warn us not to perform similar acts to our own G-d?

According to Rabbi Ishmael a Jew would never entertain tearing down the altars of G‑d.  Rather, the meaning of “You shall not do so” is that you should not do like the deeds and behavior of the nations, since your sins would cause the Sanctuary of your fathers to be destroyed.

Indeed, we are taught that it is only do to our own iniquities that G-d allowed the Temple to be destroyed.

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Each act has a cosmic effect. A piece of litter might end up harming someone – impacting all the people in her life. A random act of kindness might be paid forward a hundred times over.

Spiritually, this is even more true. The reaction to positive deeds reaches the furthest corners of existence and penetrates the highest heavens. A negative act impedes the entire cosmos and burdens G-d Himself, as it were, with its darkness.

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Tonight, Rosh Chodesh Elul, we begin the annual process of stocktaking. The Jewish month of Elul is the last in the calendar year. It is also the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a time to look back at the past year and take stock of our spiritual achievements and shortcomings, resolving to improve in the coming year.

One of the challenges I often face in this spiritual process, is that I am too general in my self-review. After all, I reason, if I’ve had a year in which the mitzvot in my life surpass the wrongdoings, I’m a good guy and am on the correct path.

But, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Stocktaking is not only about judging my own character.  It’s about reviewing each and every act and activity. Granted, I may not remember all of them. But, I have a duty to assess each act I can recall – on its own – to analyze its impact on me and the world around me.

Sometimes I don’t see an obvious, direct consequence of my actions.

Dorian serves as my reminder that some acts influence indirectly more than directly.

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