For the week of April 1, 2006 / 3 Nisan 5766
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 - 44:23
If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible. (Vayikra / Leviticus 5:1).
The other day I went to get our mail from our community mailbox. As I was about to leave a man, whom I didn't know, got out of his vehicle that was nearby and began to approach me. In a very apologetic way he said to me that he had been noticing how we had been driving in the neighborhood and that we hadn't been stopping at intersections properly. He was concerned that we were going to cause an accident. I told him there was no need to apologize and thanked him for telling me. This man illustrates the sprit of what God is saying in the verse I just quoted.
I am aware that what he did is not exactly what is being addressed in the verse, which is a very specific legal situation in which community authorities call for witnesses. In that case people who know something about a situation, but refuse to come forward, are held responsible for their refusal to do so.
While the verse is addressing a particular legal situation, it is an expression of a general biblical principle of how we are responsible for one another - something our neighbor understood. Having observed a behavior that was potentially dangerous, he spoke up.
Is this not an application of what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Vayikra / Leviticus 19:18). Contrast this with the attitude of Cain, who, having hated his own brother to the point of murdering him, said upon being asked about Abel's whereabouts, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Bereshit / Genesis 4:9).
We are our brother's and sister's keepers. I don't know what my neighbor's motive was for confronting me. I don't think he cared about me and my family. Perhaps he did, but I would guess he was more concerned about himself and his own loved ones. But at least he cared enough to say something. He understood that he had a responsibility to speak up.
I know it can be difficult to know when to get involved in the affairs of others. We need to learn the difference between when we might be meddling in other people's private lives, and when our speaking up can make a positive difference to the individual and others affected by them and their behavior.
Speaking up is described as an essential aspect of mature community life in the New Covenant book of Ephesians. There we read that healthy community speaks the truth in love to one another (see Ephesians 4:15).
This is so different from today's popular way of thinking that we have no right to confront others about anything. Individual freedom has been misinterpreted to include letting people figure out everything on their own without input from others. But this goes against the essential connectivity of the human family. No one has all they need to figure out life effectively. And people shouldn't think that they need an invitation before speaking truth to one another.
Thank God that our neighbor didn't think he needed such an invitation.
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