Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת כי תצא, תש״פ

Parshat Ki Teitzei, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

Please, Sweat the Small Stuff

When I was little, my parents kept a book in their bathroom, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, And It’s All Small Stuff. When I am picking something to wear or eat for breakfast or a salutation in an email, I try to remember that line - Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff - there are more important matters out there. However, Richard Carlson’s thesis cannot be all-encompassing. There is a lot of small stuff out there that we don’t sweat enough. Every moment, every small decision, is a chance for a mitzvah, and Ki Teitze gives us more than a few examples.

In our parashah this week, the parashah with the most mitzvot in all of Torah, we are commanded to find the owner of a lost animal or object when we find one unattended. When we harvest our field or vineyard, if we forget to collect a heap we left behind, or when a grape or stalk of wheat falls out of the pile we are carrying, we are told to leave it behind for the poor. We are told never to take unfair advantage of our workers, but rather, to pay those who live hand-to-mouth on each day that they need. And in business dealings, we must calculate our weights and measures with our utmost honesty. One heap, one grape, one day’s wages - all opportunities for mitzvot, for doing the right thing.

What would it look like to spend our days scrutinizing small moments, searching for mitzvot? How might it feel, when we drop our wallets and change comes spilling out, to reserve those coins for the tip jar, or even leave them for the next person who needs a quarter or two? When we see that dog or cat walking on the side of the road, what would it mean to pull over, check for a collar, and call the owner or post on the community’s facebook page? How can we operate our businesses in ways that put the priorities of honesty and generous employment first? Among the pile of mitzvot in our parashah today, we find laws about construction and animal welfare, about ensuring universal financial security and equality under the law. Last week, Howard Silberman gave us his personal list of Twenty Commandments, and one of them was to live Jewishly. That living Jewishly extends far beyond mezuzot and Shabbat candles; it extends to the split-second decisions we make at each moment of our day. Living Jewishly must mean to open our eyes, to analyze each situation for potential mitzvot. Living Jewishly must mean to sweat the small stuff, because after all, it’s all small stuff.

In just a few weeks, on Yom Kippur, we will recite Vidui, that long list of confessions, accompanied by breast-beating, nine times throughout the span of twenty-five hours. “We have sinned against You in idle chatter.” “We have sinned against you by taking bribes.” “We have sinned against you through arrogance.” It can be daunting to try to act any better, knowing that we can do so much wrong at any moment. And yet, if so many wrongdoings exist, think about how many ways we can reverse those actions, how many chances we have to get it right. This year, let’s get it right. Let’s keep our eyes open for the small stuff, those mitzvah moments, so that when the big stuff comes along, we are ready to give up our pride and hesitation, to truly live as our Jewish selves. Shabbat Shalom.