“How would you like it that every time you made a mistake, a red light would flash and thousands of people would boo?”

Torah Sparks on Parashat Bo

R Schell ShiurImagine living in a world in which violating the laws of morality leads unavoidably to consequences in the world of nature. When we read Parshat Bo, with Pharaoh refusing to let Israel go and with nature responding to his stubbornness with plague after plague, we find exactly this. And we cheer on Moses and our ancestors in their struggle to be free of Egyptian slavery. But, are we still fine with this concept if we compare it to our days?

Given the weather of the past weeks (the heat wave, El Niño), it is easy to argue that this might be a punishment for us, too. But, the idea that if one person sins the entire world suffers does not meet our own morality test. What would be fair about one person sinning and the whole world suffering? Why should one person’s disregard of Torah make the rains fail to fall and bringing famine and hunger to the entire country? From the point of view of nature, however, this may not be such an unusual thing. If one person or one corporation pollutes a stream or the air, everyone suffers. When one person smokes a cigarette in an enclosed area, everyone is subject to second hand smoke. But what would it mean if every immoral act we performed directly caused a bad natural phenomena? If we told a lie it would turn our water into blood, the bigger the lie, the longer the blood would flow.

The question is whether we would be better people in such a world, where fear of getting caught determine our acts, or not? I need to state the obvious here: The fear of getting caught is not the reason we should be doing good and living moral and ethical lives. Fear of punishment is what we teach children to get them to behave, but it is not a good method to get adults to behave. The only reason for doing the right thing is that it is the right thing to do.

The Torah/our Judaism is our conscience. Torah is the mirror we use to look at ourselves to see how we look in the light of what God has asked us to do. We are committed to doing the best we can every day we are alive. We do make mistakes and we do slip into sin, but, thankfully, we can repent; we can resolve to do better and we can have a chance to try and do better in the future.

God does not strike us with lightening when we sin. God does not afflict us with suffering or disease. The world is a difficult enough place to live without nature coming after us as punishment for our sins.

Still, what we do, for good or evil, does affect the world. We can choose to live in a kind, caring and considerate manner, or we can live lives of infamy and cruelty. The Torah tells us the price of sin, but also tells us to choose the good, to choose the right and to choose life.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Konigsburg, Temple Beth El, Birmingham, AL)

Torah Reading for Shabbat Bo
Exodus 10:1-13:16 (Reading Ex 10:1-23; Plaut p.406; Hertz p.248);
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28 (Plaut p.427; Hertz p.263)

The Torah Study with Rabbi Schell continues on Shabbat, 23 January at 08h45

The Prayers of our Siddur”– class with Rabbi Schell resumes on Thursday 21 January

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.

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