We begin to think like the ancients, “Are the gods angry with us? Have we unleashed nature’s fury by failing to better care for our precious world?” Our ancestors did not understand the laws of nature. They sought to draw connections between natural disasters and their own behavior. The Torah makes this line crystal clear. Our moral behavior influences whether or not the rain falls and whether or not, for example, the earth will yield food.
Take a few verses from this week’s portion as evidence.
If you do not obey the Lord your God to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect:
Cursed shall you be in the city and cursed shall you be in the country.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
The Lord will let loose against you calamity, panic, and frustration in all the enterprises you undertake… The skies above your head shall be copper and the earth under you iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land dust, and sand shall drop on you from the sky, until you are wiped out. (Deuteronomy 28)It is a rather unpleasant list. It does not represent my theology.
And yet it is a powerful reminder of our responsibilities to the world at large. How might my behavior improve if I imagine that my actions keep the world in balance? If I act unethically, the world might tip toward chaos. I hold the world in my hands. What we do, and don’t do, affects everyone.
Long before the Internet tied the world together and fashioned an awareness of a global community, the Torah bound us together through our morality. My poor decisions don’t just affect me, and perhaps my family, but the entire world.
The corollary is of course also true. If we behave morally, and ethically, then the world might right itself.
This morning, along with the help of so many of you, I participated in that righting. We packed a truck with supplies bound for Houston and those now rebuilding their lives from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Even though our massive outpouring of support might only be a fraction of what is needed it inspires me to do more. We participated in repairing the world one small step at a time, slowly helping to right our precious home.
And while I do not believe that my inattention to any of the commandments brings on hurricanes I take heart in the Torah’s notion that I can do something even from afar. I take to heart the Torah’s insight that strangers are bound to one another. If that far away person has fallen down I can certainly do my part to help lift them up.