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), Beha’alotcha includes the story of a group of Israelite men who encounter a dead body and, as a result, are considered ritually impure and unfit to participate in the first Passover festival. This pains the men and they ask Moses and Aaron, “Just because we are impure from a corpse, why are we barred from approaching to make an offering to God on this festival with the rest of the Israelites?”
As dvar tzedek author Guy Itzhak Austrian writes, “At first glance, these men are seen only as tainted with death. But the men themselves refuse to be defined by that stigma. Instead, they assert that they, too, are living people with a spiritual need to celebrate life and experience liberation.”
The takeaway: This aspect of the story, Austrian writes, reminds us of the importance of seeing “life and possibility in the midst of death and suffering” – especially when engaging in social justice and service work. Sometimes, when faced with the pain of the communities we work with – whether it stem from severe injustice, war, poverty, or something else – it can be hard to see anything but the pain. But, Austrian writes, sadness and suffering are not the only story.
Woven amidst even the most painful places, one can find moments of beauty and community. So while “some countries suffer more than their fair share, and we should hold ourselves responsible for alleviating their pain,” focusing solely on this aspect of the story is not the only way to engage.
The “to-do”: Austrian writes it best: “This week, sign up with an online news portal to receive every article about one developing country from many sources.” (Note: You can set up a Google Alert for that country to get started.) “Read for an entire week and listen to what voices emerge. Do you hear death or do you hear life? Cries of pain or cries of joy? And how will you respond to what you hear?”
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.