Monday, November 17, 2014

Vayetze- Blessings Go Both Ways

V’hayah zar’a’kha ka’afar ha’aretz ufaratzta yamah vakeidmah v’tzafonah vanegbah v’niv’r’khu v’kha kol-mish’p’chot ha’adamah u’v’zar’ekha.
And your descendents shall be like dust on the earth, and you will spread west and east and north and south; all families of the earth will be blessed by your descendants. (Breishit 28:14)
This idea appears a number of times in the Torah. Our blessings are many: the mitzvot of the Torah, which help us to live a conscious and holy life, numerous descendants impossible to number, and a foot in every corner of the world. Jews have been everywhere, from Mali to Panama to New Zealand. Try to imagine a country that has never had a Jewish community. Furthermore, Jews have flourished in these countries, even amidst discrimination.
Not only are we recipients of blessings, we are expected to return those blessings to the nations of the world. Isaiah would later refer to the Jews as the “light of the nations,” providing spiritual and moral guidance to the world. Recently, I was in Ottawa for a Shabbat. Rav Barry Schlesinger, of Agudath Israel, in a brief comment on Lekh Lekha, stretched this meaning to include the many and varied Jewish contributions to technology. I would expand that to tzedakah, medicine, science, literature, and beyond.
Torah, and those who follow it, has changed the world. Torah was the first to change the inequality between those with wealth and those without, to see women as more than legal chattel, to build a social order where individuals are responsible for others, and much more. These innovations in society and culture led to the formation of free-loan societies, sick benefits associations, fraternal associations, charitable organizations, and so much more. There’s little need to mention the amazing contribution to the worlds of literature and the sciences. Everyone who uses a computer, a tablet, or a cell phone uses technology given to the world by the Jewish community. Just try to imagine getting medical treatment without a connection to discoveries and innovations produced by the Jewish community. Jews are 13% of Nobel Prizes in literature, of Pulitzer Prize winners, they are 14% in fiction, 18% in poetry, 52% in non-fiction, and 34% in drama. They have been 41% of the recipients of the Tony for best play, and 54% of recipients for the best book of a musical. In the Oscars, they have been 38% of Best Original Screenplay winners and 32% of Best Adapted Screenplays. Well beyond our size, we have given back to the world from every corner of the earth, the west and the east, the north and the south. It is a legacy we bear with pride.

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