Friday, November 9, 2012

Food Challenge Day 6

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

As we approach the rest and letting go of Shabbat, I think of our need to turn our reflections into actions and not to stand idly by when someone / something is needed and important in our community. We read in the Mishnah for Rosh HaShanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5 and 6:
Whether the crescent was clearly visible or whether it was not manifestly visible, they (the witnesses) may profane the Sabbath because of it. Rabbi Yose says: If the crescent was undoubtably seen, they must not profane the Sabbath because of it.
It once happened that more than forty pairs of witnesses passed through, but Rabbi Akiva detained them in Lod. Rabban Gamliel sent to him: "If you detain the many, you may lead them astray in the future."
This was about witnessing the new moon, and then, in ancient times, going before the rabbinical court in Jerusalem so that the new month could be announced at the proper time. The entire calendar and the timing of all the holidays depended on reliable witnesses making the effort to do their civic duty. (A little like voting, perhaps?) It was so important that one could violate the laws of Shabbat and travel on Shabbat in order to be a witness in the court. In fact, it was so important, that if 40 pairs of witnesses (two were needed) all went testify before the court, they could all break Shabbat in order to be witnesses. The message Rabban Gamliel is sending us is that if we don't let them all go, in the future, people might just think, "Oh, someone else will go. I don't need to."

How often have we thought this? Bystander syndrome is what it is called today. No one wants to be the first to intervene to help someone. Our ancient rabbis understood this psychology, as can be seen in their understanding that it was better for 80 people to break Shabbat than to take the risk of detaining them and telling them not to go, for the result could be that at some point in the future, no one would go.

The rabbis' message is about personal action, and the need for each and every one of us to take responsibility. So as we rest and renew ourselves this Shabbat, let us consider what we each as individuals can do in the areas of food justice and the environmental importance of how we eat. Personally  I pledge to examine my eating habits, to discuss the options with the other half of my household, and to try to make more of a difference personally. I invite you to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom.

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