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“I haven’t seen you in a while” Chandler said to me as I greeted him yesterday afternoon. He resides in a local shelter and was seated in his favorite spot, on the bench near the Blue Bike rentals. I’ve tried to make a point of greeting him by name in recent months. I hadn’t expected him to lift my spirit. My absence had registered with him. He made me feel visible. Missed. Like I mattered. 

“I’ve been in Israel” I said. He smiled, “Oh that’s nice.” “It’s good to see you again” I added. “You too. Have a good afternoon” he wished me, as I went on my way. It was a pedestrian encounter. An entirely ordinary story. Uneventful. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it held a deeper truth: drawing near can help us rise. 

The clamor and clashes at national and international levels swallows our attention. This can be important. Ukraine’s plight requires nothing less. Still, the farther away issues are, the more apt we are to make assertions and take positions on them. Yes, the James Webb Telescope should instill wonder. Yet so should what’s close by. So should drawing near to meet someone’s gaze, to feel their pulse.

This is what transpires in this week’s portion of Torah, when a story is told about the formation of an inheritance law. Five daughters, whose father died because of a wrong he had committed, did not leave a male inheritor. Could these women inherit his land? Millenia ago, God’s reply is “Yes” adding “these daughters have spoken impressively well” (Num. 27:7). What impresses God so much about their plea? Certainly their candor and their respectful tone. But also the fact that they drew near (va-tikrav’na), which, in turn, Moses does (va-yakrev) when he brings their inquiry before God (Num. 27:1,5). Respectful closeness finds divine favor. 

I heard a piece of polling data this week. Among those who believe there were irregularities in vote-counting in the election of 2020, most of them believe their own personal vote was properly counted. Up close and personal, things register with us differently. 

It’s not accidental that the daughter’s inheritance story is sandwiched between a census-count and occasions for offerings, whose defining term (korban) literally requires drawing near. 

As Chandler did for me this week, getting close can help you rise. When it feels safe to do so, ask for, and then address a person by name. It may end up helping both of you stand taller.

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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