Learn to respect

One of the Torah readings for Shemini Atzeret comes from Deuteronomy 14. The passage lays down the obligations for supporting the needy, plainly stating, “there should be no needy among you’. One might ask how this striking result has to be achieved. The answer is quite simple and it is stated in the 14:23, the opening verse of the passage.

Here the people instructed to bring the tithe of the fruits of their labour and the firstborn of their livestock to the “place where God chooses to establish His name” and  consume it there. Distance is no matter. Should the journey be inconvenient, the person has to sell the goods and bring money which he should then spend on the lavish feast.

The most important part of this passage is inconspicuously hidden in the middle, where Torah explains the purpose this comings and goings, “so that you may learn to revere you God forever”. Ibn Ezra comments on these words, “The obvious meaning of in order that you learn is: When you are staying in the holy place, they will teach you. But a non-obvious meaning is “you will become accustomed to”. I believe that the latter interpretation is the correct one.

Indeed, it is. We are not born with an inherent sense of respect for God or our fellow human beings. Ethics and morality have to be learned the same way we learn the alphabet. One of my teachers called it “exercising the mitzvah muscle”,

Chizkuni, a French commentator of the 13th century, develops this thought further, “in order that you may learn to revere, etc.” This expression is meant to refer to reverence for the Lord becoming something natural, a daily occurrence, part of your everyday life, not something restricted to when one visits the synagogue and prays intently”.

The respect for God and people should become something as natural as breathing. Thus we must train ourselves in manifesting in every hour of the day.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.