He used to say:
Everything is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living.
The shop is open;the hand writes;and whoever wishes to borrow, let him come an borrow.
The collectors make their rounds constantly, every day, and collect payment from the person, whether he realizes it or not.
They have proof to rely upon;the judgment is a truthful judgment;and everything is prepared for the banquet.
A very long one! This could be broken into pieces to think about and post – but that would destroy its flow. This is an extended metaphor and almost parable.
Using the everyday life experience of people of a merchant extending credit to his customers the rabbi provides a number of insights for us to ponder today.
Let’s not over-analyze it or turn it into an allegory where we assign each role to someone and each action gets dissected. It is possible to do that with this piece and with the parables of Jesus. Instead, let’s just let the story flow and see what comes to mind.
We are given the world and everything in it for our use and well-being. We are given life itself. But – it’s given to us with a condition. The condition is not particularly easy to summarize – it’s what the whole of Pirke Avot and the Scriptures are about. Here come a few highlights.
One part of the condition is that we acknowledge and surrender to the will of God – as expressed in the Scriptures and Pirke Avot.
A second part of the condition is that we understand that all of reality is a gift to us from God that we have ‘on loan’, held in trust for the future. We can be like bad tenants in a rented house – late with the rent each month, letting the children deface the walls and damage the floors, having pets that pee everywhere and leave stains, and then skipping out while trashing the house even more. Or we can be good tenants – who care for the home as if it were their own, keep it clean and repaired, and leave it in as good shape as when they came (or better).
Third part of the condition – having borrowed this life (or rented this home) – we are accountable for the way we act and for the things we do and don’t do. We may not think about it, we may not see any consequences immediately. But, in the end, the debt must be paid back to the one who is the owner.
In a home rental situation – the security deposit doesn’t get returned if there is damage. A reference for a future rental isn’t given or can’t be asked for if the tenant skipped out. In life – perhaps in “karma” later in this life or in the mystery that is beyond this life we can expect some consequences for our choices.
Every faith tradition tries to balance God’s mercy and love for us and all of creation with the notion of a just God. We cannot work it out well. BUT – we all believe that this life matters in some way, that making good choices is good both for the present and in the future, that making bad choices should matter in this life (happiness and love denied at the very least) and in the next.
Without making God into some cosmic book-keeper or picky landlord – are we leading the sort of life that respects God, our neighbors, and our world? Or not? Are we exulting in the gift we have been given (for a limited time) and using it fully? Or not?
When the end comes – are we filled with joy and gratitude? Or are we filled with regrets?