My thoughts and prayers this week are with all the families and communities struggling with the consequences of Hurricane Harvey as well as the floods in India, Bangledash, and Nepal which have left over a thousand dead, and millions displaced.
In continuing our preparation for Rosh HaShanah, I want to share a commentary on just one verse of last week's Torah portion, Ki Titzei. The Torah teaches, "If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow." (Deuteronomy 22:1) While none of us own oxen, nor probably know any "fellows" who own any either, it's a relatable verse. We can all agree, helping those around us is an honorable behavior.
However, the Hasidic Rebbe, the Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger 1847 - 1905) encouraged us to go much much deeper. He understood the oxen to refer not just to our property, but all of our inclinations and behaviors gone awry. The Sefat Emet therefore teaches, "When you see the behavior of your fellow has gone astray, do not ignore it, do not walk away from the situation, thinking it has nothing to do with you." If we don't ignore the behavior, what should one do instead? How does one best help others rectify their behavior? Do we confront them directly, do we reprimand them softly? No.
Instead, he counsels that sometimes a middle and much more radical path is best. "You must seek to rectify within yourself the fault you perceive in the other" first and foremost. The things that bother us most, the behaviors of other people which really get under our skin, are often issues that we struggle with within ourselves. He therefore suggests, when you see someone else behaving in a way that is inappropriate and anger arises within you like an ox about to burst from its harness, take a look inside of yourself first. There are lots of issues we might be bothered by in life, so perhaps the ones which demand our attention most, have something to teach us about our own selves. The Sefat Emet therefore counsels that we should reflect on how the behavior in question has arisen in our lives in the past, and see how we might improve this in ourselves, first.
This Week's Challenge: As we continue to prepare for the Days of Awe, may we all learn to channel the frustration, disappointment, and anger about the behavior of others, into increased awareness for our own potential for improvement, and commit to the work of our own growth. Lead by example instead of reprimand first, and others may follow.