Re’eih: Broken Rules I

Aug 20th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth
Broken Rules

Broken Rules

At 5AM I was at the stop sign at the entrance to my neighborhood. I was on my way to my morning hike and I didn’t expect too much traffic, but this morning it was actually dangerous. A few cars refused to stop. Each time I was about to drive forward, a car came shooting past the stop sign and cut me off. Finally, one car stopped and it was safe for me to make my turn.

I thought about Sir Isaiah Berlin’s definition (in The Hedgehog and The Fox) of “Positive” and “Negative” freedoms. The former is the ability to do what I want. The latter is my acceptance of certain rules in order to allow me to function in society. A red traffic light forces me to stop. Although it limits my positive freedom; I can’t drive ahead just because it is what I want to do, it allows me the freedom to drive ahead when the light is green. I can rely on people stopping for the light that is red for them. The negative freedom allows me to drive with more security. When other people refuse to obey the laws, I lose my negative freedom. I gave up my ability to drive without stopping assuming that cars driving across the road would also stop. The cars I saw this morning did not stop. They deprived me of my freedoms, positive and negative.

It was remarkable that all the cars that refused to stop were quite expensive. They were high end BMWs, Mercedes, and Lexus. The car that finally stopped was more of my kind of car; an older Ford. It almost seems that the rules do not apply if you can afford a car worth more than $50,000 (Or, if you’re Argentine; but that’s a different story – See Broken Rules II)

One of the reasons that I love Halacha – The Torah’s Instructions For Traveling Through Life – is that it creates a system that makes sense and helps preserve our sanity. For example: I must rebuke someone for doing something I find hateful. I must speak with care and respect, but I may not keep my negative feelings inside. (See The Music of Halacha Rebuke Introduction, I & 2) The system actually works if the other person is willing to hear what I have to say. In fact, the Ibn Ezra explains that usually he will be able to explain why he acted the way he did, and everyone leaves the situation in a happy mood. The system only works if all parties cooperate. What happens when someone breaks the rules? What happens if I choose to function within the system and the other rejects it?

The Torah, in this week’s portion, Re’eih, addresses this issue and has a message for people who speed through stop signs: “Rather, you shall surely open your hand to him (the poor person): you shall lend him his requirement, whatever is lacking to him.” (Deuteronomy 15:8) The Talmud teaches that “his requirement” means that we must provide the poor person with the standard of living that he has lost. Hillel the Elder hired people to serve as runners for a wealthy man who had lost everything. The man was accustomed to great fanfare whenever he traveled and Hillel felt that it was important for the man’s dignity. One day, Hillel couldn’t hire anyone so he served as the runner.

The Mitzvah of Tzedaka – Charity – obligates us to pay attention to the specific needs of the recipient. The Torah wants us to see the world through the eyes of the other. We cannot survive when we only see the world through our own eyes. “His requirement” reminds us to deal with others based on their needs and perspectives.

Halacha wants the wealthy and secure person to pay close attention to those who also were once wealthy and secure. The wheels of life turn. The system continues whether or not we pay attention or obey the rules.

Author Info:

Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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  • Well Done! I love to read such amazing posts. The idea of making a co-relation between traffic rules and Holy Bible rules is great. The Holy Bible teaches you to do good things in life and helps you to make your way to heaven. In the same way traffic rules make our life safer and knowledge of all traffic road signs work as a life saver. This can stop many big disasters. Always obey rules whether its Traffic rules or Gods rules!!

  • moshe stepansky

    Everybody knows the inherent difficulty in the first verse of this week’s Torah reading, R’eih:
    “R’eih Anochi notein lifneichem HaYom, b’rachah u’k'lalah” ==> Behold!(in the singular) I am placing before you (in the plural) today, a blessing and a curse. Why the shift from singular to plural??

    I believe the Torah is imparting a double message here:
    1.Although each individual is charged with fulfilling the commandments- this does not occur in a vacuum. When looking inwards, one must also look outwards-One’s serving G-d may not come at someone else’s expense.
    2.And the Torah reinforces this message – the blessing/curse hinges upon whether or not we interact with each other to achieve Oneness in serving G-d.

    Right now, we are in the midst of the period of the year from after Tish’a b’Av leading to Rosh Khodesh Elul known as “bein HaZmanim”. All yeshivas are off and Tsfat doubles in size as the preferred vacation spot. It is very heartening to see people on vacation who still spend a number of hours each day learning in the Beit Midrash- for Torah is never on vacation.

    This past week, I was learning in the Beit Midrash and this fine fellow plops down on the same bench as me and shifts the table (and the sefer I was trying to learn) with no thought for anybody else. OK, It can happen.

    But, during the course of the next half hour, he shifted the table, the bench and other items multiple times; each time interrupting my feeble attempts at learning.

    Finally, I used R’ Shlomo’s time-tried solution to avoid anger -I turned to the fellow and blessed him ‘he should merit to reach the level to appreciate someone else’s Torah study as much as his own’ and I went back to my learning.

    After half a minute he turns to me and asks ‘What did you mean?’. I explained to him that Torah doesn’t exist in a vacuum – one must be aware of one’s surroundings and that during the past half hour he’d interrupted my learning multiple, multiple times.

    Although learning Torah with great focus has great value, it doesn’t attain as high a level as when it is engaged in the world surrounding and engenders Oneness.

  • moshe stepansky

    I’d like to suggest a different interpretation of the verse “R’eih Anochi notein lifneichem HaYom, b’rachah u’k’lalah” ==> Behold! I am placing before you Today, a blessing and a curse.

    G-d is telling us ‘I give you a recurring gift = TODAY, and it is in your hands to determine whether it will be a blessing or a curse.

    Everybody knows we always read P’ R’eih just before ushering in the month of Elul. G-d reminds us, it is never too late to focus on each day and to make every day count.

    May it be for a blessing…

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