Jewish Journal

Obligation to Society

by Beit T'shuvah

May 23, 2014 | 11:13 am

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

I am a Dinosaur. I have been looking at myself for many years now and, as of late, I realize how much my upbringing affects me. I have been looking at the world through both new and old eyes. I use the latest technology and cherish old ways of living. I am very progressive and a child of the 50’s and 60’s. I believe in Living Well and I have not saved enough for retirement. I live each day, planning for tomorrow AND living each day to it’s fullest. Why am I a dinosaur?

Because I still hold on to old ideas. I still believe in debt and owing. Not money, not subservience, but true loyalty. I was having a discussion with one of my colleagues here at Beit T’Shuvah yesterday and I realized how much I hold onto old ways and ideas, even though I coach them in today’s ways. This idea of owing goes along, for me, with my basic understanding of Jewish Living. We owe God a debt for giving us life. We owe our parents a debt for giving us life. We owe our teachers a debt for giving us life. We owe our community a debt for giving us life. WE OWE. Yet, most of us are unable, unwilling, defiant, etc. to acknowledge this debt. We keep making the excuses that we have “done it on our own,” “people owe us,” “I paid my debt,” etc.

As an ex-convict, I can say I paid my debt to society through going to prison, serving time, and then being on and getting off of parole. WRONG! My debt to society continues. My debt to those I have harmed continues. My debt to my family continues. Why? Because I am obligated to make my corner of the world a little better than how I found it. I am obligated to care for the stranger, the poor, the widow and the orphan both externally and internally. I have to care for and raise up my inner life so I can have a healthy outer life. I have to care for and raise up others so that they and I can share a healthy inner and outer life. This only happens with and through other people and God, in my opinion.

I live life out loud, sometimes too loudly for others. I am passionate and have vision. When I use passion and vision to serve others, I am repaying my debt. When I use these attributes to serve ONLY myself, I am reneging on my debt. When kindness has been done/shown to me and mine, I am obligated to support those who have shown kindness and engage in a reciprocity of generosity whether directly to them and/or to others. I owe this to you, to others, to God, and to myself.

I have to believe in me. If not, as Rabbi Hillel asks, “who will be for me?” I have to believe in others and do for them, otherwise, what am I? Rabbi Hillel finishes this teaching with: ”If not now, when?” I learn from this that my owing is ongoing. It defines me and I have to remember that kindnesses and let go of the slights. I have to remember that for every slight, every wrong I believe others show me, the kindnesses, the gifts, the assistance given to me is a thousand fold greater! Yet, when I am reneging on my debt, I only focus on the former and forget the latter.

I am grateful to be indebted. I am grateful for the wisdom and teachings of others. I am grateful to and for my ancestors who have given me the history and the wisdom and the Torah to learn and live well. I owe you and everyone a debt. My repayment is to be the best, most authentic, transparent and loving, passionate, purposeful human being I can be at any and every moment.

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