William Hamilton

Good as new

It is telling that the one-month anniversary of the closing of the Federal Government coincides with our observance of Martin Luther King’s legacy. Rev. King reminded us of our ideals.  Government inaction reminds us of how remote they can become. 

Aside from the causes and consequences of workers awaiting a return to their offices, special competencies in every profession – lawmaking and enforcing, journalism, medicine – deserve appreciation.  Religion too declines when it’s leaders become tired and stale.  Whatever we do with our days, we should strive to keep it fresh and vigorous. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, we learn that Manna is improperly leftover until the next morning. Enough fresh Manna is provided daily.  People ignore Moses’ instruction that there should be no leftovers.  “Some of them left it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank, and Moses became angry with them” (Ex. 16:20).  This incident is enumerated as one of the ten worst transgressions committed by the Children of Israel throughout forty years of wilderness wandering.  Why is this such a serious sin?  Many claim it demonstrates a lack of faith.  Hoarding more than a day’s worth of Manna suggests doubt over the following day’s supply.  But perhaps the problem is less about what comes next, and more about what happens to what remains.

Perhaps the Manna putrefies because traces of the Divine have evaporated from within it.   Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about brushes with the holy: “we spoil and God restores”.  In the immediate presence of God, things don’t spoil.  Rather, they refresh.  This is certainly the case with the created, natural world.  A fragrant garden or a breathtaking landscape feels exhilarating.  So too when we encounter a new insight from a sacred text, it dances in our mind.  And a generous deed, a sweet mitzvah, freshens our day.  The Manna had spoiled because its miraculous texture had dissipated.

Throughout forty years for the Children of Israel, the Torah informs, “their clothing and sandals didn’t wear out” (Deut. 29:5).  Unlike typical goods and services which deplete after use, spiritual goods can replenish and freshen with use.  The more love we share, the more fluent at loving we become.  So too with compassion and forgiveness.  God’s spirit helps remake things to be and feel good as new.

May this shabbat whose identity is linked to song (Shirah) bring new life to freshen the fabric of our days, in our work and play, in our lives and loves, as we embrace the new opportunities of 2019.

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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