D’var Torah: Act for the Sake of Heaven
In Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), Rabbi Yochanan the sandal maker said: “Every gathering that is for the sake of Heaven will endure. And every gathering that isn’t for the sake of Heaven will not endure, in the end.”
Community is about gathering. That is one reason why coming together each summer in Palmer and Germantown is so meaningful to all of us. This year, we have seen that the power of our Ramah community stretches beyond the physical space to countless online gatherings. We have seen the power of Ramah friendships as friends check in frequently with one another.
Members of our communities need to look out for one another and for the common good. Rabbi Yochanan is saying that when we gather for noble purposes, what we advocate for will ultimately endure. In contrast, when people gather to sow hate and discord, their advocacy will not endure, in the end. “In the end” means that it sometimes feels like people who are acting for the wrong reasons are winning, but ultimately good will win out.
The big question is this: how do we know whether someone is gathering for the sake of Heaven or not? Can we judge other people’s motives and intentions? It is very tricky because we assume that everyone should see the world as we do.
When reviewing this teaching, it struck me for the first time that Rabbi Yochanan made sandals. Perhaps this is instructive. We cannot truly understand the other person until we “walk around in their sandals” – until we consider their points of view, rights and feelings. I would argue that we cannot truly act for the sake of Heaven until we do so because being created in God’s image means we need God to value each and every person.
These are emotional times. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt that we are all acting in good faith and with good intentions. Let’s be patient and generous with each other. When we gather, let us use the power of being together for the sake of Heaven – for good. Camp Ramah is about gathering community and marshalling it for good actions. Wherever we are physically, let’s have our actions reflect those values.