Saturday, / February 4, 2023

The King’s Cups

Editor’s Note: There are seventy “faces” to the Torah, says the Midrash. Like a prism refracting disparate colors of light, Torah enlightens the entire spectrum of humankind with the wisdom of the Divine. In this feature, we invited individuals who have come to Torah study as adults, to reflect upon something that they have learned.

וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקים | אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ . . .   

And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him . . .

I am a police officer with over twenty years’ experience. The reality I see at work is uncomfortable. I choose to take the ugliness head on, but this requires intellectual and emotional strength.  

My life was guided by Torah in a general sense, but my quest to truly understand our world led to a desire to understand the Creator, and this led me to an increasingly intense study of Chassidut. It is easy to find G-d in nature. It is much harder to find the Divine image in a homeless addict or a violent criminal.  

With every contact I have, I remember what we are told in Genesis — every one of us is created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d. Even in a non-compliant situation, I understand that I am dealing with a person who, just like me, reflects the Divine image. While I have made objectively better life choices than many of the people I deal with, my inherent humanity is no different than theirs. To disrespect those created in the Divine image is to disrespect G-d.

The law itself is black and white, but its application almost always falls in the gray area. The Torah teaches us to balance gevurah — severity with chesed — kindness.  Strict Divine justice would leave all of us guilty, and unrestrained kindness would lead to lawlessness and chaos. We should seek the middle ground, but we need a framework to do this.  

In a Chasidic discourse,  Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch, the fifth in the dynasty of Chabad Rebbes, cites a parable in the Midrash Rabbah about a king who possessed fragile cups. If he were to fill a cup with hot fluid, it would crack. If he filled it with cold fluid, the fluid would congeal (and thereby contaminate the cup by making it unclean). Wisely, the king poured in a mix of hot and cold fluid, and the cup remained intact. Our justice system is akin to the king’s cup. Extremes in enforcement will damage the integrity of our justice system, possibly with serious consequences. 

My Chasidic study makes me a better police officer and a better human being.  Striving to understand others in the context of Chassidut has brought me to a level of self-actualization I could not have reached any other way. This is our challenge, to understand that we are all a single organism, with mutual obligations to each other and to G-d.

Sarah Crews is a veteran police officer who has served several communities in New York State.

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