Date: Sunday, August 29, 2021
In Saturday’s Buffalo News God Squad column, Rabbi Marc Gellman answers a question regarding the core teaching of Judaism. He believes Judaism teaches me how to live a good life, to love God and to leave the world a better place. He added: “I believe in Judaism because I believe that there is something bigger than us and that something is God.” The question of what makes a person, a nation, a people great, is on the mind of the author of the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses tells the people of Israel that they are a great nation. What nation has God so close to them that God made a covenant with them and called them to observe the Torah, the Commandments of the Lord, and instilled such gifts of wisdom and intelligence? Indeed, this is what make Israel “holy” and sets them apart from other nations.
St. James reminds those who hear or read his letter that “all good living and every perfect gift is from above.” We are birthed by the word of truth. “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” Like Moses to the Israelites, James tells his community of believers and listeners what sets them apart, makes them holy, makes them great. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only… religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” “Widows and orphans” represent all those members of society who have fewer advantages and are easily ignored and exploited. True worship of God obliges us to care for those who are left out and to share our (God’s) blessings with them.
In our Gospel according to St. Mark, Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the pharisees and scribes who are too conscientious of public show of religiosity -- diet and ritual cleansing before meals -- and less concerned with God’s Commandments and the inner disposition of one’s heart. What defiles a person comes from within: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deception, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
In the eyes of God, what makes a person or nation great is not determined by our use of force or power but the authenticity of our worship, the moral integrity of our lives, and the empathy we exhibit to those in need. God’s measuring stick of greatness is different than our own.