Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:
The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Vayelech, begins in fairly familiar territory. The Israelites are at the end of their 40-year desert trek and used to their relationship with a very active and present God, who feeds them manna and demands their obedience. They are also used to having Moses and later Joshua as their leaders.
But once they enter the Land of Israel, everything changes. As this week’s dvar tzedek author Adina Roth writes, “they will transition from dependence on an overt God and strong leaders to worship of a more concealed God and rule of law dictated by weaker, short-term judges. This evolving relationship with external authority will require a cognitive shift away from simple dependence towards greater empowerment.” In other words, for the first time since leaving Egypt, they will be more in control of their own destiny.
The “takeaway”: Roth asks: “This tension between depending on external leadership or finding an inner sense of authority within ourselves and our communities is a challenge we face in civic life today. Do we place our destiny in the hands of our leaders, those with official titles of power, or do we assume responsibility ourselves for maintaining our nations’ ethical course?”
Roth writes that the “ideal power structure is a balance: On the one hand, we need to honor the fact that ‘external’ leadership does matter—elected leadership has the capacity to bring about significant change. Yet, we must not forget the force and influence of our inner shirah (song)—the power of the people to lead their own way on a just path.”
The “to-do”: In any relationship you have – whether it’s with parents, friends, partners, teachers, or a boss – be respectful and listen to them, but don’t forget to listen to your inner song as well. Strive to find the balance between your voice and theirs, and everyone will benefit.
Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.