1 Year Later: Partnering with Post-Earthquake Haiti -- Ki Tissa

 

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Halakhic Man." trans. by Lawrence Kaplan. (Phil: JPS of America, 1983), pp. 105-106

   

Man, the creature, is commanded to become a partner with the Creator in the renewal of the cosmos; complete and ultimate creation — this is the deepest desire of the Jewish people. The Scriptural text “And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Bereshit 2:1) — the Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, translates va-yekhulu, “were finished,” as ve-ishtakhlelu, “were perfected” — is both a profound expression of the soul of the people and the most fervent desire of the man of God....

Just as the Almighty constantly refined and improved the realm of existence during the six days of creation, so must man complete that creation and transform the domain of chaos and void into a perfect and beautiful reality. [Lawrence Kaplan translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How do humans continue the work of creation? In what ways are we perfecting God's creations?

2. In what ways can this notion of partnering with God also inspire us to be better partners with humans?


Babylonian Talmud, Mo'ed Katan, 27a-b

Translation Original

Our Rabbis taught: Formerly, they would serve drinks in a house of mourning, the rich in white glass vessels and the poor in colored glass, and the poor felt shamed: they instituted therefore that all should serve drinks in colored glass, out of deference to the poor.

Formerly they would uncover the face of the rich and cover the face of the poor, because their faces turned black in years of drought and the poor felt shamed; they therefore instituted that everybody's face should be covered, out of deference for the poor...

Formerly the [expense of] taking the dead out [to burial] fell harder on the near-of-kin than the death so that the dead's near-of-kin abandoned [the body] and fled, until at last Rabban Gamliel came [forward] and, disregarding his own dignity, came out [to his burial] in flaxen vestments and thereafter the people followed his lead to come out [to burial] in flaxen vestments. Said R. Papa. And nowadays all the world follow the practice of [coming out] even in a paltry [shroud] that costs but a zuz. [Soncino translation]

תנו רבנן: בראשונה היו משקין בבית האבל, עשירים - בזכוכית לבנה, ועניים בזכוכית צבועה, והיו עניים מתביישין. התקינו שיהו הכל משקין בזכוכית צבועה, מפני כבודן של עניים

 

 

בראשונה היו מגלין פני עשירים ומכסין פני עניים, מפני שהיו מושחרין פניהן מפני בצורת, והיו עניים מתביישין. התקינו שיהו מכסין פני הכל, מפני כבודן של עניים

 

 

בראשונה היתה הוצאת המת קשה לקרוביו יותר ממיתתו, עד שהיו קרוביו מניחין אותו ובורחין. עד שבא רבן גמליאל ונהג קלות ראש בעצמו ויצא בכלי פשתן, ונהגו העם אחריו לצאת בכלי פשתן. אמר רב פפא: והאידנא נהוג עלמא אפילו בצרדא בר זוזא

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What were the practices of Jews prior to the rabbinic enactments? What communal values did these practices convey? What values were exhibited by the changes in practice towards the poor?

2. In each of these cases, how did the rabbis attempt to level the playing field between the poor and the rich?

3. What are some practices we have today that shame the poor who cannot afford to participate? How can we change these practices?


Exodus Rabbah 31:12

Translation Original

There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty; it is the most terrible of all sufferings. Our sages have said: If all troubles were assembled on one side and poverty on the other, [poverty would outweigh them all].

When a man is rich and has a poor relative, he does not acknowledge him; for when he sees his poor relation, he hides himself from him, being ashamed to speak to him, because he is poor. [AJWS translation]

אין בעולם קשה מן העניות שהוא קשה מכל יסורין שבעולם. אמרו רבותינו כל היסורין לצד אחד והעניות לצד אחד

מי שהוא עשיר ויש לו קרוב עני אינו מודה בו, רואה קרובו נטמן מפניו שהוא מתבייש להשיח עמו לפי שהוא עני.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the connection between the first and second part of the text?

2. Where does the rich man's shame come from? How can his shame be expunged in order that he might be in better relationship with his relative?

3. Have you ever experienced this kind of shame - either as one who was in need of help or as one who could offer help? What would have made the experience easier?