There are some 74 mitzvoth said to be stated or restated in this week’s Parasha, more than 10% of the total 613.
Some of the mitzvoth are thought to be curious and with little practical application to the modern Jew. Of course, you know by now that there is always something meaningful to be found in even the most arcane sounding aspects of our Torah.
For instance, we are told that Ammonites and Moabites are prohibited from marrying into the Jewish people “even unto the 10th generation…forever,” Deuteronomy 23:4, but Egyptians could marry among the Jewish people after the 3rd generation. Deuteronomy 23:9.
Isn’t that bizarre? After all the suffering we experienced at the hands of the Egyptians for many years and Pharaoh’s genocidal policies? Egyptians are placed on a higher rung than the Moabites?
The difference say the Sages is the value of treating others with kindness and the importance of showing appreciation to others. These are two critical character traits of the Jewish people that we try to impart to our children generation to generation.
The Torah reminds us that the Moabites not only refused basic hospitality, but hired Balaam to curse B’nai Yisrael. There was no goodness in Moab to be found. As for the Egyptians, we are reminded that before the enslavement, Joseph rose to power and our people were not only allowed to live there, but flourished there, growing mighty in numbers.
Both the Moabites and the Egyptians dealt with the Jewish people in an evil and cruel way. Notwithstanding that, however, we are taught that we have an obligation to still show appreciation for the good that was done for us. Yes, the Egyptians were cruel, but we also have to show gratitude for the years of plenty from which we benefited.
Regarding those who have hurt us, can we think of any way they have ever helped us? Can we look at the good they have done? Do we have the power within us to forgive the ill and appreciate the good?
As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are reminded to look for the good in others so that we can be forgiving. Even though it is an unresolved question about what it means to forgive someone who has not asked for forgiveness and who may even be oblivious to the hurt they caused, there is no dispute that we should express appreciation and gratitude to each person who has helped us in any way. Indeed, it is possible that by expressing gratitude to someone that has hurt us, such a person may be motivated to reflect on his or her behavior in a positive way.
We have a custom of apologizing to people in the days surrounding Rosh Hashanah “if I have hurt you in any way.” That sort of apology has its place, I suppose, but it should not be rote.
What do you think of approaching people and thanking them, saying, “I am glad to know you and thank you for….” Are you aware of someone’s donations of time to helping house the homeless, feed the hungry, educate the learning impaired, clean up parks, fundraise for worthy projects, pro-Israel advocacy? Tell that person how much you appreciate it! What about individuals that have helped you personally? What about their mere friendship? Their listening ears, outstretched hand, shoulder to lean on?
Of course you can ask for their forgiveness for the times you may have missed the mark, but what about giving them the gift of your expression of appreciation?
May we all look forward to a new year where our acts will merit appreciation, but when forgiveness will inevitably be needed, our acts of kindness tip the scales in our favor.
This Shabbat we are privileged to learn with Ruth Bergman. 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
Shabbat shalom and L’shanah tovah,