William Hamilton

Being needed can be the best medicine

So many are being careful and kind.  Daily we are hearing touching stories about the courage of health care providers and public safety professionals.  It feels like striving to meet the needs of others is becoming our new pastime.

There is one need, however, which may be easily overlooked.  The need to feel needed.

Our self-worth comes from a sense that we are needed.  Feeling necessary promotes a person’s dignity.

An important difference between rights-based societies and those driven more by responsibilities becomes clear when considering a particular community’s neediest person.  They have an inherent right to things like food, shelter, and treatment for illness.

Judaism comes to supplement these rights with something more.  A town’s poorest person is also required to give charity to someone richer.  That’s right (and responsible).  By definition, every other person has more than she or he does.  Yet since dignity is also a core need, being a provider is essential.  The neediest person in our midst draws strength from providing for the needs of others.

This week’s portion of Torah opens with a purposeful calling.  “God called to Moses, speaking to him from the Communion Tent” (Lev.1:1).  The Hebrew word for call (kara) implies endearment, intimacy, and tenderness.  It’s how angels commune when praising God’s holiness, “and one called to the other”(Is. 6:3) according to Rashi.  Perhaps the affectionate texture of the call can allude to the sheer gift of being able to respond to it.

As we continue to strive to meet the needs of others, may we make space for them to draw strength by sharing from their abundant offerings as well.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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