From this week’s parshah – Achrei Mot – we focussed on the middah “Make your own good decisions.” The middah derives from a verse which commands the people of Israel not to follow certain violent laws and practices that were performed in Ancient Egypt and the land of Canaan. The Torah teaches us how to draw on a foundation of practices and traditions that help us act differently than others in the circumstances we might find ourselves.
This week our Grade 8 students led a very moving Yom Hashoah commemoration. During the ceremony, they reminded us about those whose lives were enveloped by the Holocaust and those who also stood up against the Nazi’s and their laws. Of the many remarkable stories of defiance during the Shoah, one that stands out for me is the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. With the leadership of local minister André Trocmé and his deputy pastor Edouard Theis, the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon risked their lives to hide Jews who were being rounded up by the Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy regime and sent to the death camps. It is estimated that this town of about 5,000 people hid as many as 5,000 Jews in private homes, on farms in the area, as well as in public institutions. When asked after the war why they had risked their lives to save Jews, the town leaders linked their resolve to their own Protestant religious teachings. These teachings have their roots in the same biblical texts that we read and study.
Fortunately, today we have the opportunity to practice the middah to “Make your own good decisions,” in much less trying conditions. Still, it isn’t always easy to do so. Our “fight or flight” responses often get in the way of us making good decisions. Yet, if we can become more aware and mindful of our emotional and mental states we are more likely to be able to do so. As moderns, and as Jews with a fair amount of historical baggage that might justify a “fight or flight” response, we would do well to engage in some practices and rituals that calm our minds and allow us to make good decisions.
This Shabbat may we all have an opportunity to turn-off, tune in to our families, and be mindful of making our own good decisions.