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The Truth about Us

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
  Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
  human beings who are but grass.” — Isaiah 51:12

The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12–52:12.

We all have our good points as well as those areas in which we need to improve. The same goes for the people we encounter throughout our day; they, too, have their good points and their not-so-good points. Everyone has a good side and a bad side. The question is — which is the real us? Are we the good, the bad, or both?

According to Judaism, we are essentially all good. How do we know this? Because the Bible teaches us that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We all have imperfections and a spiritual curriculum to work on, but our core is all God, all good. Our job is to see the good in ourselves and in others; our job is to see the truth in each other.

This week’s Haftorah begins in a style typical for Isaiah: “I, even I, am he who comforts you . . .” Repeating a word, like the double usage of the word “I” here, is seen later on in this reading when Isaiah said, “Awake, awake, Zion . . .” (Chapter 52, v. 1). Earlier we saw it when the prophet said: “Comfort, comfort my people . . . ” (Chapter 40, v. 1).

The Jewish sages comment on Isaiah’s tendency to repeat words in his prophecies, explaining that it was a reward for seeing the good in the children of Israel. Isaiah constantly sought out their good points and argued on their behalf. His reward was that he saw God more clearly than most prophets. The double language is an expression of clarity and certainty that his visions would materialize. Since Isaiah saw the good in others, God gave him the ability to see into the future better than anyone else.

In the story of Noah after the flood, we learn how Ham found his father laying naked after becoming drunk. He ran out to tell his other brothers what their father had done and invited them to come witness the scene for themselves. But Shem and Japheth had a very different response. They walked in backward so as not to view their father’s nakedness and covered him up.

In life, we have a choice. We can expose the weaknesses of others, or we can look away and help cover it up. Likewise, we can expose the goodness of others or look away and ignore it. All too often it seems that people uncover the bad and bury the good. But we have to act like Shem and Japheth and turn away from the bad parts of others, and then act like Isaiah, revealing the good in others.

Today, let us try to see the good in every person that we meet. Remember, it won’t just be looking at a more pleasant view; we will be looking at the truth.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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