The Ten Commandments, Tikkun Olam, and Moneyball - Shabbat Nahamu

Shabbat Shalom. For those who don't know me, my name is Mark Levitt. My wife Rebecca and I have been coming to Temple Israel for 15 years; we are proud to have celebrated two b'not mitzvah and will be celebrating a bar mitzvah in two years. I am also the new chairman of the Ritual Committee.

In today's d'var torah, I would like to share impressions of Aseret HaDibrotTikkun Olam, the movie Moneyball, and what they can teach us.

We stood today as we read the Aseret HaDibrot, which are part of the brit or covenant that we as a people made with God at Mount Sinai, and where they were engraved on the first stone tablets by God and the second tablets by Moshe. From English translations in books and the movies, the first impression that many of us have of the Aseret HaDibrot is that they are "The Ten Commandments," which sounds a lot like "the top ten commandments." This is despite the fact that the Hebrew text uses the term "devarim" or "words" from the Hebrew "ledaber," which makes the Greek name "Decalogue" meaning "Ten Word" or "Ten Words" more accurate than "the Ten Commandments." The Aseret HaDibrot in the book of Shemot (Exodus) and retold in today's parasha in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) are the source of 15 commandments according to the Rambam (Maimonides) and other scholars who identified the sources and details for all 613 mitzvot in the Torah:

  1. Do believe in God;
  2. Don't believe in other gods;
  3. Don't create idols;
  4. Don't bow down to any other gods;
  5. Don't worship any other gods;
  6. Don't swear falsely in God's name;
  7. Do keep/remember Shabbat;
  8. Don't engage in certain activities on Shabbat;
  9. Do honor parents;
  10. Don't murder or kill without justification;
  11. Don't engage in adultery with someone else's spouse;
  12. Don't steal (which has been interpreted as kidnapping to make it as serious as the other one's listed here);
  13. Don't bear false witness;
  14. Don't covet someone else's wife/belongings in a way that leads to taking them;
  15. Don't crave someone else's belongings even without taking them.

Concerned about giving the wrong impression of the Aseret HaDibrot actually representing a top ten list ofmitzvot (commandments) that are more important than other mitzvotRashi taught, "kol shesh meot u-shalosh esrei mitzvot be'hlal aseret HaDibrot hen" — "all 613 commandments are included in the Aseret HaDibrot." This explains that each of the ten parts of the Aseret HaDibrot represent different categories ofmitzvot. For example, all laws relating to monetary activities fit under the category "lo tignov" — "don't steal."

Of the mitzvot identified in the Aseret HaDibrot, 80% or 12 out of 15, are don'ts (mitzvot lo ta'asei) and 20%, or 3 out of 15, are do's (mitzvot asei). For all 613 mitzvot, 60% or 365 mitzvot are don'ts — equal to the number of days in the solar year — while 40% or 248 mitzvot are dos.

One helpful way to look at dos and don'ts is that they present different ways for us to connect to God and our tradition. 60% of the mitzvot guide our lives in telling us what not to eat and how not to mistreat others. If our tradition was based solely on these don'ts, we would be safest if we sat at home passively, not doing anything to avoid violating any of the don'ts. Thankfully, 40% of the mitzvot tell us how to actively connect to God by showing our appreciation for creating the world, taking us out of Egypt, and respecting our parents and elders for what they do.

The Aseret HaDibrot teaches us how dos and the don'ts complement each other. For example, the reference to Shabbat in the Aseret HaDibrot read today differs from the earlier Aseret HaDibrot from Exodus in that there we read "zahor" ("remember" the Shabbat day) and here we read "shamor" ("keep" the Shabbat day). In the Leha Dodi prayer on Friday night, we say "Shamor ve'zahor bedibur echad" — "[the words] keep and remember were said as one." One explanation is that zahor in Shemot (Exodus) refers to the active ways in which we remember Shabbat by starting with Kiddush on Friday night and ending with Havdalah on Saturday night. Shamor in this week's reading refers to the passive ways in which we keep Shabbat by avoiding prohibited activities. This teaches us that both dos and don'ts are important for making Shabbat a special day of the week. Some of us will find meaning more in the don'ts while some of us will connect more to the dos.

Now let's consider our impression of "Tikkun Olam." Today, this term, which is generally translated as "perfecting or fixing the world" and sometimes referred to as a mitzvah, is widely used to encourage people, especially younger people, to engage in social action programs like building houses, visiting the sick, and raising money to cure diseases. In May, the publisher of the Jewish Advocate, Rabbi Korf, wrote an editorial titled "The Fallacy, Delusion and Myth of Tikkun Olam. He goes on to say that Tikkun Olam has become an obsession and is not a commandment. Instead of trying to save or repair the world through politically correct Tikkun Olam, we should all just focus on observing mitzvot. On the one hand, Rabbi Korf is right. There is no mitzvah among our 613 mitzvot called Tikkun Olam and too many of us, especially high school and college students, are paying too much attention to Tikkun Olam and too little attention to Kashrut, Shabbat, and Tefillah.

One the other hand, with all due respect to Rabbi Korf, he is not helping anyone by not acknowledging thatTikkun Olam represents a category of activities that includes mitzvot, like feeding the sick and treating strangers and workers well, as well as the many types of "gemilot hasadim" (acts of kindness) that Pirkei Avot states that, along with the Torah and Avoda (prayer), keeps the world standing. To paraphrase Shakespeare, a mitzvah by any other name is still a mitzvah, and Tikkun Olam projects succeed in getting people engaged and excited about helping others. That is something we should encourage, not discourage. However, we should make sure that people engaging in Tikkun Olam are aware of the mitzvot that are the basis for Tikkun Olam. Otherwise, we run the risk of people engaging in social action purely as a secular activity rather than one that is inspired by and closely connected with mitzvot and hessed (healing).

Another reason to continue our commitment to Tikkun Olam can be found in the second part of Aleinu, which we usually race through silently at the end of services and during the High Holidays, in which we say "letaken Olam be'malhut shadai" — "to perfect or fix the world in the kingdom of God." This refers to our hope that God will turn the world into one where everyone recognizes God's authority. Although this doesn't provide a source for a Tikkun Olam call to action for us, it does challenge us to be like God and help to make the world a place where God's authority is recognized.

Now that we have clearer impressions of Aseret HaDibrot and Tikkun Olam, let's move on to Moneyball. Who has read the book by Michael Lewis or seen the movie with Brad Pitt? They are based on a true story involving Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A's, who, facing a very limited budget to hire players, decides to reject the popular wisdom of the day that a successful team needs to have highly paid popular players who can hit home runs. He follows the advice of a young computer statistician, played by Jonah Hill, whose analysis revealed that the most important measure for success is having players that get on base, and it turns out that these players are not necessarily expensive. With this approach, the A's made the playoffs in 2002 and 2003.

My impression was that it was an entertaining movie about the intersection of sports and economics. In thinking about the Ritual Committee and this d'var torah, it occurred to me that the lessons of Moneyball are equally applicable to Temple Israel's efforts to engage and attract more guests and members. One thing that we need to do is to get more people on our base, whether it is in this sanctuary for traditional services or in the library or Founder's Hall for alternative services, meditation, learning, or music on Friday night, Shabbat morning, and during the week. I recently learned the term "JFK Jews" which doesn't refer to a political group but instead means "just for Kiddush Jews." We should welcome people who could be convinced to come to Temple Israel for the friends and food to be found at Kiddush, along with other programming.

In the coming year, the Ritual Committee will be working with our clergy and other board committees including TiferetYouth, and Education to figure out how Temple Israel can offer a more relevant and engaging experience for more people. The Board of Trustees have asked the Ritual Committee to experiment with ways to make our services and other rituals more interesting and relevant for people who show up daily, weekly, monthly, and annually, as well as former and prospective members who don't yet include spending time at Temple Israel on their "to do" list.

It is critical for us as a community to know who we are and what we want of our community in the future, which may be different from 10 or 20 years ago, so that when we look for our next clergy and leaders, we make the right impression. In talking with people about the plans for experimentation with change, one person was excited about finally making changes that he had in mind for a while. Another person said "no change," but when asked whether she wanted a shorter Shabbat morning service, she responded "yes."

What we are asking from you is to keep an open mind and to share your ideas about changes and new programs. We plan on announcing in advance what we will be doing and will ask for your feedback after several weeks or months. We know that not everything we try will be your cup of tea, but please consider that it may be the kind of tea that suits someone else. Please share your thoughts with members of the committee that include Joan Waldman, Sheldon Kriegel, Stephen Shrago, Rob Wald, Rob and Donna Carver, Jill and Larry Sandberg, Lori Lieberman and Joel Richman, Marv Asnes, Suzanne Jacobs and Jeff Borkan, Rachel Dubin, and me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mark Levitt
Chairperson, Temple Israel Ritual Committee