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), Va’etchanan seems to ask the question, who are we responsible to? Are we supposed to look out for just ourselves and our own interests? People in our family or community? Just other Jews, or the whole world? Where, in other words, are the boundaries of our obligation?
Dvar Tzedek author, Wendi Geffen believes that the parsha – at first – seems to argue for a narrow field of obligation, saying: “Be careful, then, to do as Adonai your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or the left: follow only the path that Adonai your God has enjoined upon you.”
But on closer inspection, she said, the scope is actually wider than it first appears. A little later the parsha reads: “You should surely keep the mitzvah of Adonai your God; God’s testimonies and statutes that God commanded you. You should do what is hatov v’hayashar (good and right) in the eyes of God.”
The “takeaway”: Geffen writes that most Jewish commentators see that commandment to do what is “good and right” as going beyond the specific commandments, to be just in all of one’s actions and interactions with others. She goes onto explain that the notion of hatov v’hayashar offers a “compelling argument that Jewish sources indeed endorse and mandate our global justice pursuits.”
The “to-do”: Doing service and helping others – both in your community and beyond it – is a “good and right” thing to do, no matter what your personal justification for doing so is. But to have backing and support from the Jewish texts makes the work all the more meaningful and powerful. While there’s no specific “to-do” action step for this week, the parsha serves as a reminder of the importance of examining why we do what we do, and the importance of helping others, no matter who they are.
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.