August 2020, Parshat Ki Teizei

Dear Friends,
This week’s Parsha is Ki Teizei. The book of Devarim, in which this Parsha is found, dedicates itself to retelling the laws of critical importance to our people as well as the collective stories that help us to understand our history and behaviours. This week the Parsha highlights a number of these laws including burial and dignity of the dead, returning lost items and building a safety fence around a roof.

These laws seem quite obvious but also are critical to an honest society in which people, at all stages of their lives and in many different situations are provided with the dignity and respect they deserve. If you have ever lost something, even small or especially something that is significant or valuable to your life, you know too well the feelings of frustration and sadness that rise up.

I tend to be particularly careful with the Mitzvah of returning lost items and can say that there is not just happiness in returning lost items to people who misplace them, but there is also a sense of happiness and satisfaction for the returnee. I once returned someone’s wallet who was incredulous that I returned the wallet as I had found it-with all cash and cards intact.

It never entered my mind not to return such an important and valuable item. I know that faced with the same situation I too would want my wallet returned and I felt like I was able to contribute to a ‘random act of kindness’ that helps to heal our tired and sick world where fighting, division and sadness can sometimes feel relentless.

Likewise, burial and dignity for the dead is called ‘Chessed Shel Emet’-True Kindness. A dead person is not someone who can give you anything back and the final act of helping to provide a dignified funeral and send-off to someone who has already passed, is considered to be one of the only true noble debt-free acts of kindness that one can do for another.

Finally, building a safety fence around a roof seems logical as it helps to protect people from unnecessary falls and the danger of harm. However, this is also a metaphor for other kinds of safety that we can provide to others through considerate and deliberate actions. I don’t need to point you much further than the current pandemic where we are in lockdown and required to wear masks, stay home as much as possible and reduce socialisation.

These steps are “fence building” in order to prevent unnecessary harm taking place against our fellow humans. Each of these actions contributes to a society in which we work to protect people who are vulnerable and at risk.

In this way, I think our Parsha provides beautiful and eternally relevant messages. Our society and community is only as good as those within it choose it to be. Using the eternal guide, our Torah, we are able to implement these actions to protect the vulnerable, help people who have lost their things and send off the departed with dignity. These are significant actions which help to maintain a cohesive and caring society and world.

When I look at the way in which our community is rising up against the challenging circumstances that we are living through during COVID-19, I know these strong principles are imbued into our people and community. We can be proud to be a part of such an incredible Kehillah. I know that I am.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi