September 5th, 2020 — Shabbat Ki Tavo
The ancient philosophy of divine reward and punishment exemplified in parshat Ki Tavo and throughout the book of Deuteronomy suggests that human suffering results from disobeying God’s commandments. This largely accounts for the ubiquitous and problematic belief that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. But thanks to thinkers and leaders in the last century who have challenged this axiom, we have evolved our understanding of God and human suffering. This ideological shift offers us a more compassionate conception of God and a more compassionate Judaism. When the cholera pandemic was ravaging the world in the 19th century, Rabbi Israel Salanter demonstrated radical compassion when he encouraged his community to care for the sick, even if they had to break commandments to do so. In a time when a pandemic is once again wreaking so much havoc, when so many are suffering and dying, we must remind ourselves that we are not being punished. Rabbi Salanter teaches us that what’s called for now is not blame or religious zealotry, but radical compassion and care.