Last week the world mourned the loss of Robin Williams, a remarkable man who touched so many through his art, and his comedy. When thinking about his life and the various roles he filled, I always come back to the role of Professor Keating, in Dead Poets Society; this wonderful teacher who really challenged his students. And when I think about Professor Keating, I always think of that scene as they looked at the photos of the former pupils of the school and Professor Keating whispered to them “carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”.
When I think about Professor Keating’s message to the students, he encouraged them to dream. He urged them not to be bound up by the world as it is, but to imagine the world as it could be: imagining their lives as they could be, imagining their lives being extraordinary and then pursuing those dreams.
Professor Keating’s message relates well to this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh when we have a really interesting take of the world as it is and the world as it could be. As the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land, once again we receive the law of the sabbatical year; instructing us that in the 7th year there shall be a remission of debt. And then the Torah says to us,” there shall be no needy among you, since Adonai your God will bless you in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion.” In this way, the Torah imagines once the Israelites reach the promised land there will no longer be any needy people.
And then, only a few verses later, it says “But when there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that Adonai your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.” In the space of just a few verses the Torah moves from this ideal situation of no needy people to what will inevitably be the situation where there will be those in need.
We can look at the Torah and the way that it precedes as rather beginning with the world as it is and then moving to the world as it could be, the Torah begins with the world as it could be; a world with no needy people. And, only after considering that option, does it allow itself to then consider the world as it really is.
In this way the Torah allows us that moment where we might dream of what could be without being bound or constrained by what really is. While it’s important to always have our basis in reality, in the world that we experience, beginning with the world as it could be rather than the world as it is, frees us and opens our minds to dream of how we can really make this world a better place, beyond what might otherwise be possible.
This is the message of the Torah, I think this was also the message of Professor Keating. And for each one of us, we need to think, how we can imagine that world, and what will we do to build this world that could be extraordinary.