I’ve been thinking a lot about collective responsibility. It’s part of how Jewish Tradition understands teshuvah: what is expected of us is not only to reflect on and atone for our own transgressions, but also those of all humanity. It’s a pretty heavy burden, but then, so, in a way, is Judaism. Judaism constantly challenges us to reach higher in our efforts, individual and collective, to make this world a better place.
According to the rabbinic imagination, seven things were created even before the world was created. As Rabbi Harold Schulweis writes in his introduction to the book Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah by Kr. Louis E. Newman (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010) these is a “Among these is a reservoir of moral energy to respond to failure, to turn the self around” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 54a). “It is that which we call teshuvah, without which the human being cannot grow nor civilization endure. It is a precondition for human moral survival [my italics]. Teshuvah is hidden within the heart of the divinely imaged human being and its energies engage a stunning revolutionary collegiality between the two creative forces: G-d and humankind.”
This summer has been a particularly anguishing one, as around the world there are crises of great proportion: the outbreak of the Ebola virus, the many deaths that have resulted and surely will continue; the conflict in Israel/Gaza, with the tremendous loss of life on both sides of the conflict, and the destruction of so much—not only infrastructure, but ideals as well; the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the continued conflict in the Ukraine.
One of the translations of the word teshuvah is “response.” Teshuvah, in Hebrew, means an “answer.” But what is the question?
As we move through this month of Elul, I wonder if we might ponder the question: How does Judaism call on us to respond to the crises facing the world? What is our responsibility to ensure human moral survival?
Heavy questions, I know, but part of the great burden and responsibility of being a Jew. . .