Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim: Parashat Vayikra

Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen

The parasha this week is about many things, but I’d like to focus on ethics and giving.

In this life, many people try to be moral, upright and charitable people by helping others around us the best that we can. I meet lovely people every day who follow the Bible’s principles of doing justice and mercy toward others.

However, now and then, I meet a person who seems to act selfishly and only thinks of themselves. Maybe you, too, have met such a person. A dishonest person who lies can sure ruin a person’s day.

I remember when I was in military training under much pressure to do better. The purpose of the training was to illuminate people’s flaws and equip them to change how they respond under pressure. Following the Bible’s precepts is like military training: you learn to practice what you preach as the proverb says. One thing I have learned is that if you follow the Bible, your life will change.

Society is under pressure with the COVID-19 pandemic. The character of people and how they respond to one another is evident; some people are selfish while others are kind. During a period of heightened scrutiny, people will act differently.

We must trust one another. We can’t take from another person their property or freedom, and neither should we take their trust by deceit. The moral fabric that binds our society together rests with the ability to love each other, and amid the community, we must trust each other. I do not know if you have ever had someone lie to you, and if you are like me, it is hard to trust people after they are dishonest. In the Ten Sayings, or Ten Commandments, the Hebrew word translated as “steal” is “ganav” and can apply to private property or even prohibit human trafficking. Society cannot take from others, even something as simple as taking away kindness and trust breaks our moral fabric down.

A person’s integrity is so important.

In the Bible, Leviticus 5:24 in the Jewish Bible, or Leviticus 6:5 in the Christian Bible, explains that when a person cheats or steals from another person that the wrongdoer must make restitution to the person they have harmed. The Torah requires that when a person takes from someone that they must restore the property and add a fifth part to it. Furthermore, the wrongdoer must present a guilt-offering to the priest for the Lord.

This two-part method of restitution has much wisdom for today. Imagine if we not only had to apologize to people we steal from, but we also had to apologize to God as well. It is too easy in modern society to throw words around like, “I am sorry,” when one is not sorry for the action, but only the consequence that ensues.

Let’s all give back to others who we have wronged more than we have taken. Let us even give others more love than they gave us.

Roger Cohen is a military veteran and a university lecturer in Southern California, specializing in ethics, religious studies and political science. To learn more, follow him at www.facebook.com/ProfessorRoger.

Congregation B’nai Chaim offers services to Jewish and interfaith families and is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit www.bnaichaim.com.