Last night at services the rabbi talked about Matot, this week's parasha. There is a war. It ends, and the Israelites give part of their spoils, the gold captured from their enemies, as an offering to God. Our own lives, said the rabbi, are not spent in war, thank goodness, but we're still always fighting--at work, with loved ones, with society. So our rest and prayer on Shabbat becomes a post-battle offering to God, our request for another chance to do better, be kinder, more sensitive to the needs of the other. As she spoke, I thought about what I had written here yesterday, and a design project I'm working on for Rabbis for Human Rights. It's a booklet of Biblical and rabbinic sources on the topic of torture, and the first text included is from Genesis 1:26: "Let us make the human being in our image ["tzelem Elohim," in the image of God], after our likeness." "Torture," concludes the author of the booklet, "shatters and defiles God's image." And defiles all people, as well, since we are created in God's image. The same can be said about any pursuit--racism, war--that demonstrates a lack of respect for "tzelem Elohim," the force, the spark, the source of life in us all. No matter if you consider that force to be divine, or just simply what makes us human; dishonoring one person will ultimately hurt everyone. But there are second chances. We can make an offering and do better.
I learned to be good when I was growing up, but I never knew why. We gave to chairty--as a teenager, I would go to my father's apartment every Sunday and write out checks, $5 to Chinese orphans, $10 to feed the poor in Jerusalem--but lacked the language or context for what I was doing. I didn't understand how important it was. How different might I be today, if I had grown up with a greater awareness that my life wasn't just about me, me, me? If I had been more cognizant of whom I might have defiled, knowingly or not? If I had learned that acting this way was a part of being Jewish, and if I had loved being Jewish? But now I'm trying to catch up, and make my offering.