Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, August 23, 2014
Re’eh contains the laws of what you can and can’t eat- a system that evolves into Kashrut as we know it. And there are many rules. Rules about separate dishes and about kosher certifications, special rules that apply to knives especially if they are used to cut onions and chilis. And then there’s Passover!
What fascinates me most about kashrut is how much depends on trust. to identify a fish as kosher, as per our parshah, it would need to have fins and scales. In the last few years, a number of reports have surfaced indicating that restaurants and supermarkets sometimes end up selling something labeled as one fish when it is really another. This substitution would be a big problem for those who seek to only eat kosher fish, as, now that we are aware of it, means we’ve lost trust with respect to fish labeling.
Trust plays a much deeper role in kashrut than simply the identification of fish. Every time you decide to eat in my home, you’re indicating that you trust not only the level of kashrut in my household but also our standards of cleanliness and food safety practices.
With restaurants, we may rely on kashrut supervisors to ensure their kashrut, and on New York Health Department, and the Food and Drug Administration to guarantee the food’s safety.
But what happens when trust falls apart? Events in Ferguson, MO point to the answer. When figures of authority can’t be counted on to protect all citizens, or even minimally to handle justly the too frequent times when something goes tragically wrong, the entire system breaks down. As it should. Because trust in law enforcement and the justice system is basic component for a civil society. When they are missing, things go horribly wrong.
Trust was also the missing ingredient in the last round of US led Israel/PA peace talks, according to Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad. He implied that something would have to change between Israeli and Palestinian leaders for there to be a different result next time peace talks are on the agenda.
It’s not coincidental that the hebrew word for trust is בטחון, which is same word as security. At the root of feeling secure is trust. The trust that you can go to sleep at night or walk down the street without the fear of someone trying to hurt you because of what you look like, or where you live, or what you believe.
As it happens, our parashah contains a verse with the root בטח:
וַעֲבַרְתֶּם, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם מַנְחִיל אֶתְכֶם; וְהֵנִיחַ לָכֶם מִכָּל-אֹיְבֵיכֶם מִסָּבִיב, וִישַׁבְתֶּם-בֶּטַח.
“But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and God will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live with בטח.”
Usually this is translated as “ you will live in safety” but I’d like to suggest an additional layer of meaning:
You will have rest from your enemies around you when you come to trust them and they come to trust you.
Trust is at the foundation of human relationships though often we don’t have cause to think about it unless it’s absent, and by then, gaining back trust is, at best, an uphill struggle. At what times do we trust others, and what times are we trusted? What can we do to cultivate and foster trust from others, and what can others do to earn our trust? By trusting someone, we make ourselves vulnerable, we’re opening up a gap for someone else to fill. That’s not easy, but it’s an essential element of human relationships.
When relationships fail, and when society isn’t working, it’s tempting to read analysis and to make our own, to argue and debate and defend. But I’d like to suggest that we add an additional action item. We ought to ask ourselves if, among the causes, there is an absence of trust? What is the source for this lack of trust? and can we find something to do to help bring the parties towards trust and then healing?
We’re facing a world that may recently have been feeling like it’s falling apart.
How could that world, and our lives, be transformed if we focussed our energies towards building trust?