Two thousand years ago in Babylonia (modern-day Iraq), the Jewish community in a small town called Derokera had a problem on Shabbat, a member of their community had died, and the family wasn’t sure if carrying the body of their loved one out from the home would violate Shabbat—thereby violating the laws of the Rabbis and the Torah.
In comes Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak, a rabbi who has usually been known for preserving the laws of the previous generation, but not for interpreting any new laws. We might call him Rabbi Status Quo. Rabbi Nachman says that the laws of carrying on Shabbat can be broken in this case. Quickly, Rabbi Nachman’s colleagues challenge his ruling saying that he is wrong. However, Rabbi Nachman responds by giving this paramount principle in Judaism: So great is human dignity, that it overrides a prohibition in the Torah. Just as we are obligated to do almost anything to save a life, so too are we obligated to uphold human dignity.
If our tradition upholds the dignity of those who have died, all the more so must we give honor and dignity to God’s creations who are living. Fast-forward to today. We still need the reminder of Rabbi Nachman’s ruling: human dignity comes first.
Looking through the lens of our tradition, may we do the work necessary to add dignity and honor to the lives of all of God’s creations. May our laws and customs uphold a society that is filled with justice, peace, and equity for all. May it be God’s will that we do this work together for us and our children and the many generations to come.