William Hamilton

Loyalty: Deeds that reveal trust and commitment

When evaluating your life, ask not only, “How happy am I?” Also ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?”  Loyalty is a virtue that New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests is currently undervalued.

Stores and brands try to earn and retain customer loyalty.  So too with sports teams.  Yet the loyalty to a greater cause that strengthens a sense of belonging feels at-risk in today’s fragmented society.  The philosopher Josiah Royce defined loyalty a century ago as “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”

Loyalty should be earned.  It’s not something that comes cheap or is blindly accepted.  And maintaining it over the long-term is not easy because it can be forfeited.  The Torah offers insight on how it can be sustained through wilderness trials.

Collective commitment at Sinai forms the conclusion of this week’s portion of Torah.  Interestingly, there are multiple linguistic parallels connecting this incident with the Binding of Isaac story.  Both Moses and Abraham ascend mountains.  The two accounts share a chain of ten verbs – he ‘said’, ‘took’, ‘set’, ‘awakened early’, ‘built’, ‘extended his hand’, ‘was’, ’got up’, ‘came’, and ‘saw’.  Clearly the Torah’s embroidery seeks to weave together these two mountaintop moments. These peak covenantal experiences also share expressions of deep loyalty.  Sinai’s most loyal commitment, “we’ll do and we’ll listen” (na’ase v’nishma) (Ex. 24:7), expresses a future pledge that echoes God’s past praise of Abraham, “because you did this thing” and “you listened” (Gen. 22: 16,18).

A lesson that emerges is that deeds matter.  Pronouncements aren’t enough.  Lip-service that is not reinforced by action is too thin.  Even though the Children of Israel will struggle with their loyalty for forty years of wandering, their faith is leavened over time with responsible deeds that generate results.

As we examine our loyalties, may we thicken them with deeds that reveal trust and commitment.

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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