“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” These words were published by Sir Isaac Newton in 1686 as his third law of motion. This concept, as tends to happen when evaluating the implications of laws in physics, speaks to a truth that permeates our lives more than Newton may have ever imagined. More than theoretical particles, we know that our own actions ripple out into the world around us, and this is a concept that Torah knows too.
In parshat Ekev, we read Deuteronomy 7:25-26. “You shall burn the images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them nor keep it for yourselves, lest you be en-snared thereby; for that is abhorrent to the Eternal your God. You must not bring an abhorrent thing into your house. ...”
Those who know the Ten Commandments know one cannot have nor make a graven image. But in this moment, Moses goes further. According to some of our commentators, the abhorrent thing we can’t bring into our house isn’t the idol. That is too obvious for Moses to teach here. Moses says that it is an abomination to bring the silver and gold from the idols in-to our homes. Not only mustn’t we make false idols, but we cannot benefit from the product of their destruction. Doing so would be a willful act that is antithetical to God’s will, and Moses’ profession of our deepest values. The destruction of a false idol is enough.
Unfortunately, we see too many people who knowingly benefit on the tearing down of others. All too often, we see this problem in the emotional destruction that we cause to others. We find it too simple to hurt others by calling them names and walking away as if we are morally supe-rior. The evidence is stark: rates of suicide and depression are up amongst teens and adults.
We need to change. We must grasp how our name-calling causes a reaction in others, creating unnecessary pain and anguish. Our words cause others to lose trust in us. While hurting others can lead us to feel good, that is enjoying the silver and gold of a false idol.
I pray for all of us on this Shabbat to seek ways to see our reverberations in the world around us. I hope we find our actions to be instigators of peace and justice, mercy and kindness. May we all know Torah’s gift that we are important builders of the world we need and deserve.
Rabbi Chase Foster is the rabbi for engagement and learning at jHUB.