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The Law of the Borman Expressway

David Dirlam with edits by Michael Stevens

Summary: Rabbi Michael Stevens led our discussion today with several of his favorite commandments. We responded with several of our own and then focused on the text he provided. Participants generalized from the commandments to fit them to our modern lives. Kindness to strangers became kindness to immigrants, then to anybody in need, whether for sustenance or friendship.

The global commandment to be holy led us to discuss whether “holy” meant separateness or something else. Doug made the down-to-earth observation that it meant “don’t be a jerk.” When Rabbi Mike added, “Be a mensch,” Doug expanded his conception to include appreciation, awe, and having a sense of wonder. Rabbi Mike explained, “The idea of separateness misses devotion, selflessness.” After a little more discussion of separateness, he concluded that “Holiness is a responsibility to neighbors and the world.”

Our discussion of not putting a stumbling block before the blind began with helping them. I mentioned a New York Times article about the inventiveness of the handicapped and how others sometimes tried to solve problems for them that were not problems (e.g., fixing the blind person's cane, a favorite tool). Mark added that stumbling blocks can be insults.

The commandment that justice favors neither the rich nor the poor led to diverse ideas. Albert brought up the idea of hostile witnesses (who are unfavorable to those who called them). They present a need for realigning the goal of getting to the truth. Ruth added the distinction of how the theocratic law and the law of kings have been replaced by a more natural law.

The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself first generated dicussion about what loving yourself meant. It concluded by observing that the commandment refers not to feelings but to behavior. Judy explained how helping someone get drugs is not loving them, and Marsha added that help means “respecting and esteeming them, their nature, minds, and who they are.”

Rabbi Mike solved the enigma in the commandment not to sow your field with two kinds of seed, by noting how juxtaposed verses often explain each other and the juxtaposed verse is not to plow a field with an ox and an ass at the same time. The weaker one gets an undue  burden. Doug generalized this to mean don’t mix your loyalties, and Don added that we should respect the difference between different entities.

The discussion of the commandment not to falsify weights and measures led Lynn to observe how important this commandment is today. I elaborated on this with the fascinating Wikipedia article on all the ways disinformation is used.

We did not finish Rabbi Mike’s list but ended with the commandment to correct a wrongdoing affecting another by confessing and adding 20% to the damages. Of course, if one person burns down another’s house, how can anybody fairly calculate 20%?In conclusion, Rabbi Mike explained how these are all behaviors, and we do them not just for ourselves but for society.

For a longer, more detailed recap of the August 10 class, click here

Thu, October 22 2020 4 Cheshvan 5781