Rights = Responsibilities

fdr listAnother way of putting this, for those who get their knickers in a twist over the language of “rights” vs “responsibilities,” looks like this: All Americans share the responsibility to maintain a society in which all of their fellow citizens have 1) a job, 2) an adequate wage and decent living, 3) a decent home, 4) medical care, 5) economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment, 6) a good education. These are basic responsibilities to one another. We have a duty to each other to use all effective and appropriate means, including and sometimes especially, government, to carry out our shared responsibilities to one another. This is what love your neighbor looks like as a social contract in a modern wealthy post-industrial nation.

Extreme individualism is not a Jewish value. We are our brother’s / sister’s / neighbor’s keeper.

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Loving the Stranger / Loving the Vulnerable Among Us

Acharey Mot – Kedoshim D’var Torah      April 23, 2010

Shabbat shalom. This Shabbat we continue our journey through the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, or Leviticus in English. We actually read from two Torah portions this Sabbath. The first is called Acharey Mot, and the second is called Kedoshim.

Acharei Mot presents an account of the laws of Yom Kippur, as well as a list of laws regarding sexual relationships. Kedoshim offers us a list of laws that define which behaviors are considered holy – kadosh – and which are not. It’s a mixture of ethical and ritual laws.

Perhaps the most famous part of Kedoshim is Chapter 19 of Leviticus. Chapter 19 happens to be right at the mid-point of the Torah, and many commentators have described it as the heart of the Torah. It begins with God telling the Israelites to be holy because God is holy. And then the Torah goes on to present a list of mitzvot – commandments.

farmworkersThe list includes the foundations of a universal human ethics. Honor your parents. Don’t steal or make a false oath. If you’re a farmer, leave the corners of your fields un-harvested so the poor and the needy can anonymously come glean and avoid both starvation and the embarrassment of begging for food.

If you hire a day-laborer, pay him or her promptly for their work, the same day. In other words, don’t take advantage of their desperate economic situation or essentially enslave them by withholding their wages for long stretches so that you can force them to stay under your employ.

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