- Rabbi Isaac Roussel
Responsibility For Others
Our parsha this week includes a listing of strictures upon the kohanim; the priests who serve in the Mishkan and later the Temple. Due to their elevated service and closeness to Hashem, they have the most demands upon them.
Most of you know that one of my deepest connections to Judaism is my sense of being a priest. Since early childhood I have had this sense that at the very core of my being I am meant to be a conduit of Hashem to others. This is what a priest is and does. This has morphed and matured throughout my life but that core notion of being for others has never changed. I am not a scholar, nor will I ever be a great rabbi, but I am a lover of people. A priest.
As Jews we are priests to the world. All of us are called to live out that priestly vocation. It is a vocation that the Church has also been grafted into. We are intermediaries between God and others. Conduits of His grace and compassion. I would like to encourage all of us to view our lives in this context. Everything that we do should be done with “priestly-consciousness”. What we do, how we behave, what we say, has great import.
A core tenet of Mussar is that service to and responsibility for others is the single most important human value. We are responsible for our fellow human’s physical needs and also spiritual needs. We tend to think of these things in terms of the grandiose; feeding the poor or helping someone further their commitment to Hashem. But we can also focus on the little things. For example, many of us every day steal ego food from our fellow humans. What is ego food? It is the thing that people need to satisfy their sense of meaning and accomplishment. For example, someone might say “Man, I got a lot of work to do!” and you reply “You should see the mounds of work that I have on my desk!” Or they say “I won an award for best employee at work” to which we reply, “Oh, yeah? Did you know that Jim was just promoted to senior engineer?”
Service to others is letting them have their moments of glory. This happened to me just this week. I was talking with a co-worker and he was showing me this coding he had done and was obviously very proud of. Being more experienced, I was telling him how he could do it better. But then I stopped and thought to myself “I’m stealing his ego food.” So I changed course and said to him, “Wow! You did a very nice job with this.” He absolutely beamed with joy. That is one example of a small service to another.
Most of us were taught by our parents that when we borrow something we should return it in better condition than when we got it. In every encounter, we need to ask ourselves “Am I leaving this person better than when we started?” It doesn’t matter if it is just a normal conversation with a friend or a meeting at work or helping a person through a crisis. Every interpersonal encounter is an opportunity to care for and be a blessing to another.
In Yeshua’s mashal that we just read, God gives grace to those based on who He is not on who they are, or what they have done. We see Yeshua reflecting this Kingdom value in the way he treated others.
Yeshua left others better off then when he encountered them. He was gentle with them, accepted them as they were, loved them, healed them. He brought the presence of God into their lives. He forgave the adulteress, encouraging her to do teshuvah. He accepted Zakkai the tax collector's sincere repentance and welcomed him into the Kingdom of God. He loved the rich young ruler, even though the man turned away due to his addiction to wealth.
We need to follow our Master’s example and seek his strength and power to be a healing presence like him. We need to react to others not based on who they are but on who we are-- Hashem’s priests to the world.
As his priestly co-workers in the Kingdom of Heaven, this is especially incumbent upon us. Our parsha today warns the priests that improper sacrifices can lead to Chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name. This is true of our behavior. Like the priests who served in the Temple, we are held to a higher standard. Our Sages have asked why was Moses held back from the Promised Land for such a minor infraction of striking a rock in anger. One answer given is that as Israel’s leader and prophet he was held to a higher standard. This is true of us. If people know that we are religious Jews, religious Messianic Jews, we have to be even more conscious of our actions and how they affect people.
In the Talmud, Abaye says that we love God by making Him beloved by others. He goes on to say that we accomplish this by studying Torah, serving scholars, and being pleasant in our business transactions.
May we see every encounter with another as an opportunity to serve them.
May we leave people better off than when we found them.
May we treat others based on who we are, not on who they are.
And by doing so we will fulfill our vocation as priests, and make Hashem beloved!