ISSUES OF FAITH: Finding our light through service to needy

THIS WEEK’S TORAH portion continues telling the story of the Jews’ journey through the wilderness.

They have received instructions on the building of the sanctuary and one of the commands is that oil be brought to provide an eternal light within.

One will find that every synagogue today has a light that is never extinguished representing this eternal light.

Though in modern days it may not be an oil lamp, it is always comforting to have a reminder of God’s light no matter what synagogue in the world you enter.

Light is a metaphor for the Divine, for goodness and truth.

We look for people who bring light into our lives and into the world.

They foster compassion and love, finding ways to bring people together in a quest for transforming the darkness of anger and hatred to the light of peace and caring.

We can all point to individuals we know who shine with this inner light.

This is also what we should look for in our leaders, both religious and secular.

World leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu all spoke of the importance of seeing everyone as God’s children who should be shown absolute love and respect.

Each of them taught that we must see beyond race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age or citizenship status, and ensure that everyone is treated as a blessed part of humanity, each containing that divine spark.

The concept of human dignity is well-ingrained in Judaism.

The book of Genesis describes human beings as created “b’tzelem elochim,” in the image of God (1:26).

At least one early Rabbi considered one of the verses expressing this idea to be the most important verse in the Torah.

“The insistence that human beings are creations in the divine image implies that any insult to an individual, by extension, is an affront to God” (Rabbi Jill Jacobs, myjewishlearning.com).

Every spiritual path instructs us to take care of the less fortunate, the poor, the homeless, the stranger and the refugee.

And yet we insist on making excuses as to why we just cannot seem to do this.

Our excuses include: they’re lazy, they’re too different, they don’t believe as I do or they might be criminals.

Our reasons as to why we cannot help: I can’t afford it, I will only help my “own” people, they’re “illegal” or they brought this on themselves.

I would ask every person of faith to look carefully at what is taught in their scriptures and see that every one of these excuses violates their own spiritual tradition.

Remember the admonition in Proverbs 14:31, “Anyone who withholds what is due to the poor blasphemes against the maker of all, but one who is gracious unto the needy honors God.”

As countries evolved from small biblical kingdoms to those encompassing millions of people, it became clear that individuals or even small communities could not adequately take care of all those who were suffering and could no longer fill the desperate need among so many.

Through the concept of pooling resources, people could be helped by sharing the burden throughout the whole of society.

It was the development of democracies that allowed people to choose leaders who would use tax revenue to enact policies that would maximize help to the less fortunate.

Despite the differences as to how the money should best be spent, those of us who wish to live the principles of our faith believe that our government’s policies should extend love and compassion to all those who are suffering.

There should be no quibbling about their race, religion, class, ethnicity, gender or any other divisive factors in giving the needed help.

We must be as concerned for these people as we are for our “enemies” and to be as willing to spend money for them as we are for weapons and war.

If we wish to light the world with love, if we want to bring out the divine spark within every soul, we should surround ourselves with people who exude that light.

And we should choose leaders who will humbly guide us in seeing the humanity in every being, with no distinctions.

We must remember they are all created b’tzelem elochim, in the image of God.

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will.

Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.

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