William Hamilton

The texture of trust

In the midst of the 1936 Depression a rancher named Bob Hall died of cancer leaving his family in deep debt.  Columnist David Brooks recounted this week how Hall’s grandson described his ancestor’s desperation.  The surviving children pleaded with anyone to give them a loan to save the family ranch.  Everyone turned them down.  With nowhere else to turn, they reluctantly decided to reach out to a neighbor who was known for his miserliness.  “I always thought so much of your dad; he was the most generous man I have known,” their neighbor answered. “Yes, I’ll co-sign the note.”

Trusting relationships are precious.  Given today’s communication norms – whether texting, tweeting, typing, or talking – bonds of trust matter more and more.  And given the prevalence of fraud, theft of identity, and counterfeit conduct, we cherish faithful relationships that run deep.

Purity is often associated with what’s deep inside of us.  But a curious purifying ritual we encounter in this week’s portions of Torah involves the priest dabbing blood on the right earlobe, thumb, and big toe of the individual being purified (Lev. 14:14).  Why does the Torah locate purity’s realization at the extremities of our bodies?  Perhaps to convey that even if it takes up residence in the inner recesses of the spirit, purity still pulsates outward to become contagious on contact.  This may also explain why purity’s lessons are taught at the center of the Torah’s middle book.  Leviticus’ lessons swell to the far reaches of the Torah’s periphery.

Another common conception about purity is that once it’s established it permanently remains.  Yet throughout this week’s passages we witness the fluidity of purity.  It appears to be a temporary condition we reliably move in and out of.  Purity’s transitory nature suggests that realizing it is both attainable and available no matter how remote it may seem to be.

So too with trust.  It can be lost.  But it can also be rebuilt.  When we sense sincerity and exertion coming from someone seeking to earn it back, if we can afford to be accepting, then our generous hope for reunion may be rewarded.

As Israel’s President pointed out this week, 70 years is long time for a person, but a short time for a people.  Back in 1948 there were 650,000 Jews living in Israel.  Since the founding of Birthright Israel eighteen years ago, more than 650,000 young Jews have visited Israel.  All who call Israel home struggle with extremities of violence and of ideology.  Yet the nationstate of the Jewish People continues to earn and deepen sacred trust.  Rabbi David Wolpe writes, “To be chosen is not be better than others.  It is to be called to be better than one currently is.”  Today Israel  brims with promise – not merely because of her achievements and her antiquities – but also because she feels ever-called to be better than she currently is.  May her striving continue to inspire ours.

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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