August 2020, Parshat Re-eh

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday I participated in a panel discussion representing the Jewish community for the Jewish Christian Muslim Association Australia (JCMA). With me on the panel was an imam and a priest. The panel discussed  how different faith communities are demonstrating love and kindness in the time of corona-virus. Over 120 people from different faiths attended this ZOOM panel discussion and each of my fellow faith leaders spoke about different initiatives that we have been able to undertake during this difficult time.

I was extremely proud to present to the panel and audience some of the amazing work that we at ARK Centre have undertaken over these past few months. I spoke about how we have banded together, launched the ‘Pay-it-Forward’ initiative delivering meals to vulnerable people during this time and the way our community has shown the best of themselves with the care and compassion that has been demonstrated from all of you. I also highlighted that many community members have taken time out of their schedules to make calls to check in on their elderly, isolated or vulnerable during this time.

The main point that I brought forth during this panel discussion was the verse in the Torah in Genesis where G-d states: ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ This statement indicates one of the first negative sentences in the Torah.  Leading up to the creation of humans, during each day of creation G-d reflects on all His handiwork and notes ‘It is good’ and only when Adam is created by himself, that G-d realizes that humans need companions and community and then Eve is subsequently created.

This powerful message is even more relevant as the experiences of isolation, lockdown and corona-virus continue to create a loneliness pandemic that parallels the public health pandemic. We need to connect, take care of each other and support each other during this time as otherwise, if we are alone, it is not good and we will not be able to survive these dual pandemics.

Interestingly, this week’s Parsha, Re’eh, also emphasizes kindness and the importance of looking after people who are more vulnerable than you. The Mitzvah of charity is highlighted and the laws of Shmittah, the 7th Sabbatical year are outlined. During this Sabbatical year, all loans are to be forgiven and persons in debt and in servitude as a result of their debt are to go free.  There is also a discussion of providing ma’aser, a tithe, to the poor.

While these laws are integral to Judaism and are familiar to most of us, they actually represent something very deep and revolutionary. Ingrained in our tradition is the need to look out for those who are having a hard time, are vulnerable and isolated or experiencing poverty. These laws provide a safety net for the vulnerable and allow them a form of social welfare, which in turn provides them with the opportunity to forgo their debts and have another chance at success, even if they are doing it tough.

Similarly, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be a part of the ARK community when I was able to discuss the wonderful initiatives that have been established to help people during this time. We truly are a special community and the way we treat those who are experiencing hardship is testament to that. As always, feel free to reach out to me for anything you may need!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi