Weekly Sermon

Weekly Sermon

DEVARIM 5780

Sermonette

What is the highest praise you can level upon someone? For me, it is to say that this person is a mentch. What is a mentch? It is Yiddish for “human being.” A mentch is what a human being should be. Let me give you an example from this week’s Torah portion—Devarim.

The Jewish people have completed their 40 years in the wilderness and are on the banks of the Jordan river—ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses can’t go with them, but he assembles them to hear his final words.

He begins by reviewing their travels over the past 40 years. He reprimands them for the sins they had committed. But instead of yelling or scolding them, he uses allusions and hints to the various incidents. For example, He alludes to the sin of the Golden Calf by telling them that they traveled to Di Zahav—which means, “Abundance of Gold.” It was a “wink-wink-nod-nod-you-know-what-I-mean” kind of thing.

The Sages emphasize this was to protect the honor of the people. Rather than rub their noses in a sin committed 40 years ago, he chastised them—but in a respectful way. The Torah is teaching us that we should always treat everyone with respect, regardless of their shortcomings or misdeeds.

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka tells the story that he was once on a bus in Jerusalem that was filled to capacity with people. An elderly man got on the bus, but no one offered their place for him to sit. This is very unusual for Israelis. Perhaps no one saw… maybe people were dozing… checking their emails…

               After a couple of minutes, the bus driver noticed that the man was still standing, and he got very upset. Instead of making an angry remark to the passengers, the driver instead pulled over to the side of the road, stood up and said to the elder man: “Excuse me, sir, please, take MY seat!”

               The passengers immediately got the message, and almost everyone jumped up to offer the man a seat.

Today we see over d over again, the usual pundits in the media—from the liberal left to the conservative right—all seeking ways to place blame on each other. For many, there’s nothing the president can do right. For others, the left is responsible for all our problems.

Instead I wish people would just take personal responsibility and put the needs and concerns of others ahead of their individual desires. That’s how we can become better neighbors, friends, and citizens.

Did you wonder, why are we having 2 months of protest now? Ok, it started with the terrible murder of George Floyd. But that was just the catalyst. We’ve had terrible murders before. Why now during a pandemic?

My friends, perhaps we are being tested. In this polarized environment we are now living in…perhaps if all of us would begin trying to be what a human being should be, treating each other with menschlichkeit—with kindness and compassion—instead of the vitriolic that passes for news, perhaps then we will be assured to be contributing to the end of this viral malady. And surely, we will then be contributing to making the world a healthier, happier and holier place. So, Zi a Mentch (Be a Mentch) and Hashem will bless you. Amen!

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