OUR INTERCONNECTED WORLD
The laws of charity are introduced in this week’s portion. The rabbis in the Midrash make use of what appears to be a strange homily to explain these laws:
Come and see how all of G-d’s creatures borrow from one another. The day borrows from the night and the night borrows from the day…the moon borrows from the stars and the stars borrow from the moon…the light borrows from the sun and the sun borrows from the light…Wisdom borrows from Understanding and Understanding borrows from wisdom…Heaven borrows from earth and earth borrows from heaven…kindness borrows from righteousness and righteousness borrows from kindness…the Torah borrows from the mitzvot and the mitzvot borrow from the Torah. (Midrash Shemot Rabba 31:15.)
When a person with means lends money to someone who is needy, the donor may genuinely feel that I have these blessings; of course I should share them with others. He or she may go further and reflect that destiny is changeable. Who knows what may be in a few years’ time? The roles might be reversed. This person who is needy may become wealthy and I might find myself in need of assistance. If I don’t help him now, he may not be sympathetic to me in the future.
It seems, though, that our Midrash, nearly two thousand years old, is making a more subtle point that we, today, can certainly relate to.
The ultimate reason why you should help someone in need is because you are already in a relationship with him. Although you do not realize it, he may already be helping you!
All of creation is interconnected. We are appreciating this more and more at an ecological level. Climate change, anti-microbial resistance, the “Butterfly Effect” etc. are just some of the vectors that cause us to interact with people and places we may never have met before at close hand. In a recent lecture, Rabbi Lord Sacks draws our attention to “Cultural Climate Change” where bonds in society are unravelling without our realizing it. Our Torah has long posited the idea that at a spiritual level, we are all interconnected.
Moses Maimonides (Laws of Repentance, 3:4) puts this point into sharp focus:
Therefore, every person should see himself throughout the year as if he is half meritorious and half culpable; similarly, the entire world as if it is half meritorious and half culpable. If he committed a single sin, he has tilted himself and the entire world towards the side of culpability and caused its destruction; if he performed a single commandment, he has tilted himself and the entire world towards the side of merit, and caused himself and them delivery and salvation.
Your one act of charity may save the world!