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Maintaining a Healthy Balance - Yitro

Friday, 25 January, 2019 - 3:13 pm

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Goldman) 

What is Judaism’s definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!

Tomorrow in synagogue we will read the Ten Commandments (or, the “Ten Suggestions”, as some like to refer to them). As we know, the commandments were engraved on two tablets. The tablet on the right focuses on our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbat, while the other side dealt with our inter-personal duties, e.g. no murder, adultery and thievery.

And the message we need to bear in mind is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews and we ought not to take the liberty of emphasizing one tablet over the other. A healthy, all-around Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, Gut tzu G-tt un gut tzu leit--good to G‑d and good to people.

If we focus on one side of the tablets to the detriment of the other, we walk around like a hinke’dike, a handicapped Jew with a bad limp. Thus a good Jew is a well-balanced Jew.

This means that it's not good enough to be "religious" on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the side of being a “mentch” (a proper and decent human being). We have to be honest and live with integrity. If we are "religious" towards to G‑d but not fair with people, we become fanatical fundamentalists blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be mentchen.

But neither can we neglect the right side of the tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill his or her specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvahs that are directed to Jews which are uniquely Jewish.

In order that we maintain a healthy balance and don't start limping, we ought to bear in mind that the very same G‑d who said we should be nice also said we should have faith, keep Shabbat, kosher, mikvah and the rest of it.

Thus, as we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to limp or become "one-armed bandits." Let us be well rounded and permeate every facet of our lives with meaning and purpose. And in this merit we’ll reach and fulfill the purpose of creation and usher in the era that we have long awaited; an era when the Ten Commandments will become the instinctive reality for each and every one of us – the coming of moshiach.

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

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