Survival of the Fittest
In the jungle, it’s all about survival of the fittest. The weak, when discovered by the dominant, have no chance of endurance. Sadly, human society has shown throughout history, and in contemporary times, that we tend to mirror this situation with our own behaviors.
That is why I was blown away when reading the Torah portion this week. Contrary to what one would think, the first mitzvot (commandments) we are given are not those between man and God. We are not initially told to keep Shabbat or to eat kosher.
Rather, the first few mitzvot are about protecting others, specifically those who are more vulnerable than we are. We are told to take special care of widows and orphans, and we are instructed to be inviting and loving towards immigrants and converts.
As human beings, and especially as Jewish people, it is not about survival of the fittest! We don’t attack those weaker than ourselves. We don’t step on others to make it to the top. We don’t take advantage of vulnerability, nor do we push aside someone in need.
Why is that? Because being human means that we are more than just a body. We are not controlled solely by instincts. We are not just reactionary.
As humans, we have a soul inside us that is the dominant force behind our decisions and actions.
We don’t eliminate people, we support them. We transcend physical instincts and desires by striving for something greater. We reach outside ourselves to protect and take care of those that need protection.
In Judaism, our primary point of belief is “Anochi Hashem Elokecha (I am Hashem, your God).”
How do we actually live by this belief? By recognizing that not only did God conceive of and construct this world, but He also created the people in it. Each one of us was made with a spark of Divinity inside us, and no matter what our social, financial, spiritual or emotional status, we are all beloved, valuable and special.
The very basis of Torah is about concern for others. It’s about empathizing with, safeguarding, loving and supporting the people around us. Transcending our physical nature, our animalistic instincts, and committing ourselves to recognizing and focusing on the Divine spark in another human being means we are living as souls and not bodies. This is activating the spark of God inside of us.
Do you know that one-third of the Torah passes by before we are taught practically any mitzvot? We aren’t exposed to the Ten Commandments until halfway through the second of the five Books! What are we learning about in the whole first part?
Stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs. Stories of our ancestors.
Stories of right and wrong, of mistakes, of decisions, of judgment. Stories of humanity.
Before teaching us any of the mitzvot, God wanted us to learn about human behavior, about human emotion, human feelings, and human reactions. To follow the Torah properly, we need to first and foremost become people who are empathetic, understanding and loving to all the people all around us.
Yaffa Palti is a JWRP City Leader for Comunidad Sefardi in Mexico City, Mexico. Yaffa works as a spiritual educator and leader in Mexico Citu alongside her husband, Rav Palti, and their children.