(based on the Haftarah for Toledot, Malachi 1:1-2:7)
We live in a society where personal convenience is ever more a dominating ethic used in our making choices. We weigh our choices against a rather selfish yardstick. If the effort seems more than it is worth to us, or "overly" inconveniences us, we disdain from it.
Paralleling this weeks haftarah, we say "hinei mat'la'ah" which the JPS committee translated as "Oh, what a bother!" which is probably a reasonable interpretation.
We utilize this ethic in many aspects of our decision-making. In last week's Torah parasha, we are commanded, with little doubt, to care for the poor and the needy. For many of us, committing our bodies to some physical fulfillment of this commandment is too inconvenient, so we write checks to fulfill our obligation. (Or, the ultimate in convenience, we go to a web site and use our credit card online to make a contribution. To quote a Saturday Night Live character from some years back, "How convenient!")
At the congregation where I now work, we have had some recent discussions about the way we approach social action and the causes we support. At the root of these explorations has been a desire to more directly involve congregants and religious school students in activities that bring them face-to-face with the problem they are working to solve, or the people they are working to help. The idea, says our spiritual leader, is to "put a face on it."
To do so is going to take more of an effort. Some are going to have to change the value they put on personal convenience. Can any of us, even the more traditionally observant among us, truly say they never sidestepped a commandment as a matter of personal convenience? Except for those lamed vavnikim among us, it's not likely.
It ought not be a " bother" for us to fulfill our part of the covenant, to honor and fulfill Gd's commandments. It is an obligation, and personal inconvenience should not stand in our way.
I'm digressing, somewhat, from the context of our haftarah from Malachi, to stress this particular aspect of human behavior, so allow me to return. In the haftarah, Gd, through Malachi, is telling the people that they defile Gd's name and Gd's altar when they offer us for sacrifice less than their best. It's easy to extrapolate from this the idea that anything we offer to Gd should be our best--that we should not say "hinei mat'la'ah"--and attempt to fulfill the mitzvah with less than our best.
Yet, it is not our place to judge, but Gd's place. It may be that writing a check to charity is the best someone can do, given the realities of their lives. It is all a balancing act. In our effort to balance, we must be cautious as to how much weight we give the concept of "too much trouble or effort."
One way to do this is to keep in mind the end of Malachi chapter 1, verse 13--ha-er'tzeh otah miyadchem amar Adnai. Will I accept it from you?--said the Lrd.
Will our acts, when judged by Gd, meet the standard? They are surely more likely to if we find ways to follow the mitzvot with less regard to any personal inconveniences to us. For example, is Shabbat really and truly the only day you could go to the mall and get that shopping done? Might not your actual presence at services be better for the congregation than just your membership dues substituting in your place? How do you decide when something is "a bother" or "too much trouble" ? Think about it.
May all our gifts be acceptable, and may we learn to utter "hinei mat'la'ah" less and less often. Instead, may we learn to say "hinei lo mat'la'ah" which perhaps we can render in more modern vernacular "it's no bother," or better yet "no problem."
Ken y'hi ratzoneinu.
© 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Previous musings on the same parasha
Toledot 5763-Not Sticking in The Knife
Toledot 5762-Winners and Losers
Toledot 5761-Is This All There Is?
Toledot 5758-Like Father, Like Son
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