William Hamilton

Clearing clotted passageways

“If your son or daughter joins my Unit, no matter how righteous they are, after a few weeks staffing a Checkpoint, where they’ll be constantly exposed to menacing threats and spat upon, their core goodness may begin to erode.” IDF Col. Bentzi Gruber used to tell this to the parents of young soldiers. 

What then did he do to preserve their moral core? Strengthen it. Every two weeks he’d bring his troops to a mitzvah-outing. Sometimes it was volunteering with the people with Disabilities, other times supporting people with chronic illness. The point? Conspicuously adding a positive practice is the best bulwark against corrosion. 

The name of this week’s portion of Torah derives from a very interesting Hebrew word, po-kade. It has many meanings: to account or appoint, to remember or reinstate. In essence, the word indicates prominence (Izbitzer Rebbe). It describes things that stand out.

What needs to stand out for us today? Our ability to recover our best practices as Jews. To re-normalize doing deeds that plenish our souls, anything from being a 10th for the minyan on a random Tuesday night to buying the Dunkin Donuts order for the person in line behind you.  

Try to imagine that Hamas and its supporters are directing and producing most of the false claims and accusations that clot together each day. Moreover, they want to degrade our moral strength. Hamas wants us to look at those struggling Gazan victims, caught in the crossfire of a war Hamas perpetuates, and see them as less than human. Well, we refuse to do so. We refuse to grant our enemies such a perverse success. As much as we prioritize our own, we know that moral clarity, unlike moral confusion, insists that we don’t have a monopoly on loss and pain. Recognizing that others deeply know these things actually strengthens our particularity as Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “the problem of the soul is how to live in an animal environment.” Soul-nourishing deeds become anticoagulants for the clotting claims and accusations that risk becoming blockages that can lead to heart failure. 

Your soul begs for you to give it work. Try not to keep it waiting.

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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