For a change, the storm that occupies our attention this week is physical, not metaphorical. The description by one Texas official of Harvey as a one-in-1000-years storm I fear is not the case. But, as in most disasters, we get to see examples of incredible kindness and generosity. And that ties in to our Torah portion, Ki Tetse. The comments marked off below are from 2009.
“This week’s Torah portion contains 72 positive and negative commands. I did not count them, but that’s what Maimonides said. Some of the laws in the Torah are written as general principals, like ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ In Ki Tetse, we are primarily dealing with the implementation of principals as specific actions in daily life. Some of these are familiar, like returning lost property to its owner and providing for the needy (though most of us do so in other ways than leaving the leftovers from fields, olive trees, or vineyards). Others are easily translatable to our lives; e.g., one set of honest weights and measures means fair business dealings.
“Some, like how to deal with a woman you have captured in war (she is allowed time to mourn and she cuts her hair and fingernails) or not yoking an ass and an ox together, are foreign to us, but we get the idea, which is to be compassionate. Even forcing a rapist to marry his victim without the right of divorce, heinous though it sounds to us, was intended to protect and provide for the woman. Aside from unexplained items, like a ban on making cloth out of mixed wool and linen, the theme that runs through the portion is how to incorporate principals of compassion and kindness and obedience to the Lord into daily life.
“But we’re not just adding goodness; we are taking away evil. Five times, we are told that by such-and-such, ‘you will sweep away evil’ (uvi’arta ra). That’s the current JPS translation. An older one is “thou shalt put away evil” and one website on ancient Hebrew ( http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/35_dictionary_01.html ) translated the root, bet-ayin-resh, as “burn.” In modern Hebrew, according to another online dictionary (it’s a rainy Friday afternoon, and I’m finding it difficult to focus on work), LingvoSoft online, the word means remove, destroy, exterminate, eradicate, or weed. I like ‘sweep’ since it gives you an image of determinedly taking a broom and pushing all the dirt away. “Weed” has too much of a sense of futility associated with it.”
At the end of the portion are the verses we read on Shabbat Zachor, the one right before Purim (as our daughter Roz did for her Bat Mitzvah maftir). The Israelites are commanded to remember how Amalek ambushed their weak rear guard (Exodus 17:8-16) and did not fear the Lord.
And how does this tie in with Hurricane Harvey? Perhaps in the looting that has been reported; as Amalek took advantage, so are looters taking advantage of weakness. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of opportunities to abuse people financially after Harvey (24:6, 10-15) But what we see a lot of in Hurricane Harvey reports is the readiness of people to help, their kindness and compassion, the main theme of Ki Tetse. Besides a general “take care of the needy,” there are concrete tasks, like leaving unharvested sheaves. In 22:1-4, we are commanded to return a lost sheep, ox, or ass (nowadays, dog, cat, horse, etc.) to its owner, help him lift it if it has fallen, and take it home and take care of it until the owner claims it. Similar care is taken with found objects, like a garment. There are other examples. The key phrase is in 22:3, “You shall not remain indifferent.” The Hurricane Harvey rescuers have put aside formerly important differences, if only for now. They have united to help those in need, because, as one man told a reporter “That’s what we do.”
This guy couldn’t find his luggage at the airport baggage area. So he went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that his bags
never showed up.
She smiled and told him not to worry as they were highly trained professionals and he was in good hands.
“Now,” she asked him, “has your plane arrived yet?”
Sweeping Sailor Received from Komando.com.
A sailor was caught AWOL as he tried to sneak on board his ship at 3 a.m. The chief petty officer spied him and ordered the sailor to stop. The officer commanded the sailor, “Take this broom and sweep every link on this anchor chain by morning, or it’s the brig for you!”
The sailor picked up the broom and started to sweep the chain.
Just then, a tern landed on the broom handle. The sailor yelled at the bird to leave, but it didn’t. The lad pulled the tern off the broom handle, giving the bird a toss.
The bird left, only to return and land once again on the broom handle. The sailor went through the same routine all over again, with the same result.”
He couldn’t get any cleaning done because he could only sweep at the chain once or twice before the silly bird came back.
When morning came, so did the chief petty officer, to check up on his wayward sailor.
“What on earth have you been doing all night? This chain is no cleaner than when you started! What have you to say for yourself, sailor?” barked the chief.
“Honest, chief,” came the reply, “I tossed a tern all night and couldn’t sweep a link!”
The Industrial School Journal, Volume 4, Boys’ Industrial School, 1917, p. 22
BUSINESS ETHICS JOKE
“John,” said his teacher, “if coal is selling at $6 a ton and you pay your dealer $24 how many tons will he bring you?”
“A little over three tons, ma’am,” returned Johnny promptly.
“Why, Johnny, that isn’t right,” said the teacher.
“No, ma’am, I know it ain’t,” said Johnny, “but they all do it.”
Quotes about Compassion
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. Nelson Mandela
These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness. Anthony de Mello
If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. Francis of Assisi