Leading By Example

Rabbi's Message - July 6, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Many of us know the importance of pikuach nefesh - saving a life.  It is the most important value in our tradition, even more so than keeping Shabbat.  This past week in Daf Yomi (the cycle of reading a page of Talmud a day), Yoma 84b elaborates on a Mishnah about preservation of life on Shabbat: treating a sore throat with medicine, even when it doubtfully endangers the ill person’s life.  One is permitted to do all kinds of healing acts that would typically violate the prohibitions of Shabbat: mixing and taking medication, heating water for drinking or bathing, and more are specifically listed.  The Talmud teaches that “these acts should not be performed by gentiles or Samaritans” – that is, those who are otherwise not bound by Jewish law, but rather, “by the greatest of the Jewish people” – that is, the sages and scholars who are well-versed in how to act properly.  

The context is that the sages and scholars would fully understand the Jewish law of what is permitted as well as the individual circumstance of the ill person.  They are the best people to examine both pieces and understand how best to proceed.  However, it brings to mind the Torah’s teaching that the priests are the ones who examine a leper, meaning that the highest ranking individuals in rabbinic circles had to have a degree of humility.  One could have said that they should be consulted and someone of lessor status be the one to break Shabbat on behalf of the ill person.  This would have allowed for the knowledge of the sage to take precedent while the ‘grunt work’ is done by someone else.  But it doesn’t.  

This reminds me of a rabbinic story wherein a couple seeks the help of their rabbi to settle a dispute.  The husband studies Jewish texts dutifully all day, and does not want to complete simple chores, particularly taking out the trash when he returns home as that is too mundane for a great Torah scholar.  The wife asks the rabbi if there is something in Jewish tradition to compel her husband to take out the trash.  The next morning, the rabbi shows up at their house.  The man excitedly invites him in – but the rabbi declines, saying he is merely there to take out the man’s trash.  It may be beneath the man’s dignity, but not the Rabbi’s.

Much like the sages the of the Talmud (and the husband in our story), while one can make excuses for not ‘getting our hands’ dirty and claim that something is not our job – our tradition teaches that dignity is not gained nor lost from labor itself, but rather in how it is done, and not assuming that you are better than the next person.  Perhaps what makes us considered among the greatest of our people, is not merely knowing the law, but being willing to get our hands dirty, to be the one to do the thing no one wishes to do.  So, what will you do this week to get your hands dirty?

Did you pitch in, help out, and get your hands dirty at our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival events?  If so, join us for a special thank you event on Tuesday, July 13 at 5:30 p.m.  We’ll enjoy Graeter’s ice cream together at Temple and then walk over to watch the Dayton Dragons take on the Great Lakes Loons at 7:05 pm.  Tickets to the game may be purchased on your own online.