The “what if” conundrum
Many a true word is spoken in jest.
I vividly remember as a young boy, my mother whispering encouraging and reassuring words to me. She told me my potential was unlimited and if I put in the effort I could even be the President of the United States. She probably read the opening words of Parshat Re’eh which states: Behold I place before you today a blessing and a curse and assumed that she was offering me the chance of attaining the ultimate blessing. As tempting as it may sound I also recall the blustery cold winters and have no desire to be relegated to the task of shoveling snow on Pennsylvania Avenue. However since you never know what tomorrow may bring, I thought it may be prudent to clarify my positions prior to media misrepresentations.
Some Jews may dismiss this news as irrelevant but I beg to differ. In a recent Fox News reporting they remarked: did you know the average price of bacon across America has risen 14 percent since June of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Today bacon is going for a whopping $6.11 per pound, which is 41 percent higher than the per-pound price in June 2012. It brought to the fore a deep secret that has been fraught with theological underpinnings. The mere thought of biting into a sizzling hot bacon cheeseburger has caused my mouth to salivate only to be reminded of the double whammy of biblical prohibitions. My saving grace was a Talmudic elucidation from this week’s Torah portion that states: A person should never say I find forbidden foods detestable; on the contrary, one should say, I would love to eat all the forbidden foods but the God above prohibited me from partaking in certain foods. However, now that the price of bacon is sky high I have a real dilemma; I can no longer be certain that my gastronomical restraints are due to my theology or my pocketbook.
Another issue that I have a philosophical dichotomy with is abortion. I listened to the Republican debate and know that Senator Rubio and other Christian politicians are vehemently opposed to abortion regardless of the reason. Many even quote the biblical verse: u’bacharta b’chayim – and you should choose life for their pro-life mandate. Yet I differ with that extreme pro-life position as I believe as an orthodox rabbi that abortion can not only be justified but can perhaps be mandatory in extreme situations where the mother’s life is in danger. In cases of rape, incest or if having the baby could potentially endanger the psychological health of the mother an abortion may also be a legally valid procedure. Yet, I am also deeply pro-life in the sense that I believe in the sanctity of a fetus and that abortion should never be an alternative form of birth control. Furthermore, I am generally opposed to specific religious values having a role in the government’s decision making.
On social services this week’s Torah portion dictates: If there should be among you a needy person………don’t harden your heart and don’t close your hand. Make certain that he is given that which he needs. It also states: aser t’aser et kal tevuot – Thou shalt tithe … (yes, tithing or taking 10% of your income and giving it to charity is a Torah concept.) Yet the concept of tzedakah – charity is a universal kindness and even if this mitzvah had not been mandated by God it would still be essential for a society to help those in need. (Some commentaries note that the reason why a brachah- blessing is not made before giving charity is because its performance is dependent on social norms and not because God commanded it.) Thus I may be considered a compassionate liberal conservative and encourage empathy towards those who may find themselves in difficulties beyond their control. However, I also feel that an onus is also on the recipient to shun dependency and return to the days of yore; a time when being a proud American was synonymous with self-reliance.
Oh! I forgot the Iran deal. Every day as I walk into the sanctuary I read the words on top of the Holy Ark: Da lifnei mi atah omed – know before whom you are standing. Need I say any more? Of course in shul we stand before God but the prescription for getting things right is to always be cognizant of knowing before whom you are standing. Sadly, in an Iran deal the “know” before whom I am standing should be modified to read: “NO” as I know all too well before who I am standing.
You know after careful consideration I might just keep my current employment.
Rabbi Jack Engel