Ki Titzei - The Way of Kindness

The title of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is "When you go out" while the title of next week’s is "When you come in." Goings and comings, comings and goings, are a theme that runs through all of our lives, as well as through all of Torah.

Summer, for many of us, is a time of travel, of going out and coming in. "Where did you go?" is a frequently asked question.

The book of Deuteronomy which we are now reading tells us that on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites camped in many places, and details what happened there, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

All of this is part of our sacred history. Yet Torah reminds us that it is not just what we have left behind, or where we are going, that is significant. Spiritual journeys are inner as well as outer, and can take place any where, at any moment. As we approach the New Year, it is especially good to reflect on the spiritual journeys of our lives.

In thinking over my summer journeys, the one that made the deepest impression was the jaunt to a nearby suburb to celebrate my Aunt Ruth’s 87th birthday.

Aunt Ruth is the only remaining elder of my mother’s family. The party was hosted by my cousin Cynthia, Ruth’s eldest daughter. Instead of presents, Cynthia asked that we each bring an offering of words, a note of appreciation to Ruth that Cynthia would later put in a scrapbook as a present.

Aunt Ruth’s husband of blessed memory, my Uncle Bernie, was a world traveler and a great adventurer. But for Aunt Ruth, as for me, the most meaningful adventures lie in the depth of relationships that we encounter or create along the way. This is the memory that I shared.

Thirty-three years ago, I was pregnant for the third time in four years, and my young daughters were only two and three. It was, as you might imagine, a very busy time. In the fifth month of my pregnancy I began to spot, and the obstetrician ordered me to stay on bed rest. Bed rest, with two little ones running around! I was beside myself. Better, I thought, to risk losing the baby than to lose my mind trying to manage the household. Aunt Ruth came to visit, and she shared with me that she had been through the same problem with one of her pregnancies. And "you see," she said, "he was worth it."

That little phrase, "he was worth it," renewed my sense of hope, and helped me cope with the remaining days in bed. I have never forgotten her visit, and words of hope and comfort. They resonate especially strongly with me now that my son’s thirty-third birthday is fast approaching. Although raising him had its many challenges, he, his wife, and little son and daughter are now a major source of nachas-- of pride and joy in my life. Aunt Ruth was right, "he is worth it."

Thirty-three years ago neither my aunt nor I were practicing Jews. But looking back, I can see that she showed me the mitzvah of "hesed," of lovingkindness. Bringing hope to the troubled is one of the highest mitzvahs there are, and brings G*d's presence into people’s lives.

Our Torah reading, Ki Teitzei, is largely filled with examples of ways we can be kind to each other, from treatment of captives during war, to treatment of a mother bird sitting on its nest. "Do not take the mother bird with her young or her eggs," says our text, "that it may be well with you." (Deut. 22:6-7).

In our comings and goings, our going out and our coming in, every place along the way is an opportunity for a deed of kindness. As we approach the High Holy Days, we are urged to examine our lives, to see how we can make them better, and particularly, to see how we can make our relationships better.

One way is to remember the kindnesses people have done for us, and say "thank you." "Todah," "thank you," are words that make everyone’s year a little happier.

L’shanah tovah, may your new year be filled with happiness and joy.