“The Personal Revolution”

14 Elul  5776     כִּי-תֵצֵא, י”ד אלול, תשע”ו

As I watch the progress of madness on this planet and wonder how we can ever fix things, I begin to understand how frantic Moshe must have felt as he was telling his people as much as he could before leaving them.  Our Creator gave him the principles of the Torah to impart to us so that we can turn our lives around and be true to our calling.  These principles given around 4000 years ago have stood the test of time. They teach us personal responsibility and respect for our neighbor, for our fellow man, and many of them are especially for women. Since we have been made in the likeness and image of the Creator with His characteristics, we are more than simple physical beings; we can also connect with the spiritual realm allowing for deep inner growth and metaphysical transformation.  I call this “The Personal Revolution”.

Our Creator gave us the ability to think, to act and to respond — that means that we have a responsibility.  The Creator has also provided us with a most important ability — “self-restraint” which we need to exercise in order to live successfully within any community especially when tempted or provoked. Rabbi Shaul a.k.a. Apostle Paul told us that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. 

The Torah paints a picture for us so that these principles are indelibly printed into our psyches. For example in Deuteronomy 21:10 he describes how the soldier at war with his enemies needs to treat a beautiful woman who he has taken captive. No other army in the world has been given these instructions.  I recommend that you read this for yourself in order to see how this young man is told to exercise self-restraint. The result of this is that he would either want to marry her finding the true beauty within her or he would be merciful and allow her to leave.  In contrast we see groups today who are taught to abuse women in the vilest of ways according to the teachings of their religion. The Torah gave equality to women and offered protection to those women who were considered to have even less value than cattle.  The widow the orphan and the foreigner were to be taken care of and provided for.  A man couldn’t simply divorce his wife because he was unhappy with her. The Torah provided a system of justice for all these circumstances. Today young girls are bought and sold into prostitution because the principles and values of the Torah are not being upheld. 

The various regulations such as the lending of money, not wearing clothing of unequal fibers, the misbalanced yoking together of the ox and donkey, allowing the mother bird to leave before taking her eggs, were all related and were necessary teachings for those who were part of Israel.  If we could care for the least of these creatures, how much more would we have compassion for our fellow man?  Our Creator is warning us not to become killers but to have respect and reverence for life and this begins with the animals. Sadly today there are people in this world who are barbarians not caring about who they murder. They don’t even care about their own life and this eventually leads to the destruction of humanity.   At the beginning of Genesis Cain was questioned by the Creator “where is your brother?” and he responded “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes; the Torah teaches that we are all our brother’s keepers.  

Moshe also tells us to remember the Amalekites who had attacked us from the rear trying to destroy Israel for no good reason. What do the Amalekites represent? It is not about the Amalekites as a tribe or a race but more that they represent a people who were absolutely barbaric. This is what we are seeing in the Middle East today and it is pure “Sinat Chinam” – “free hatred”. The Amalekites represent people who do not care for anyone and destroy solely for the sake of destruction. They build nothing; they only tear down. Our Creator is telling us that these people do not deserve to live in our society for they will destroy us if we do not stop them.   Our Creator is against free hatred. He teaches us not to hate anyone rather that we need to help others. We do however have the right to defend ourselves from those who would try to destroy us.  Our life is sacred and no one has the right to take it away. This is a Torah principle: we alone are responsible for our sins as it says in Deut. 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” 

Today the responsibility for our own actions has been replaced by passing the buck onto someone or something else.   The Almighty gave us free will and this entails responsibility for our behavior. At this time of year as we approach the High Holidays and as we make teshuva, it is not sufficient to simply say I’m sorry, forgive me; we need to search within for what we have done wrong, acknowledge it, and then make restitution. Only then can we make a difference in this world. Only then can the gates of heaven open to us.