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Grade 8 student Jesse

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Jesse

Parshat Vayera Dvar Torah

This week's parsha, parashat Vayera, begins with a visit from three angels to Abraham’s tent. The angels inform Sarah that she will bear a child by the time they return and her only response was to laugh.

She says, “Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?” Once the angels left, God tells Abraham that he is considering destroying Sodom and Gomorrah due to its wicked civilians. Abraham challenges God and stands up for complete strangers arguing, “Will you ruin the righteous along with the wicked?” They agree that if there are at least 10 righteous people God will not destroy the town. There weren’t 10 righteous people so God decided to warn Lot, Abraham's nephew, before destroying the town. God sends two angels and Lot and his family flee Sodom and Gomorrah before its destruction. Next, Sarah bears a child and they name him Issac. Sarah sees Ishmael, their handmaid's son, worshipping idols and decides she doesn’t want him to influence Issac. Hagar and Ishmael were sent away but God helps them in the desert and promises a great nation for Ishmael. Lastly, God tests Abrahams loyalty by requesting the sacrifice of his only son, Issac. Without question, Abraham brings Issac to the altar and begins binding him before God reveals this was all a test.

After reading and understanding this parsha, one thing that I found interesting was the fact that Abraham stands up for complete strangers but doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice Issac. He argues with God that righteous people shouldn’t be punished for the wicked peoples actions but later is willing to kill his own son.  Why do you think Abraham does this? Why is he willing to kill his son but stands up for strangers

I believe the reason for this was that the failure of losing this argument with God gave him the mentality to never question God again. 

Grade 8 student Ella

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Ella

Good morning! In this week's parashat, Parashat Noah, God is disgusted by how corrupt the earth, his creation, had become. Animals and people alike treated each other terribly and chaos surrounded them. God is reasonably outraged and as a result he decides to destroy the whole world in a flood, only saving few people to start anew. In order to do this, God tells Noah, “a righteous man . . . blameless in his age . . . (who) walked with God”- Genesis 6:9 how he ”decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness” -Genesis 6:13. God then told Noah to build an ark and gather a pair of each species of animal and put them on it so they would stay safe. It is assumed that Noah, his family, and the animals were on the ark for around 370 days. 

If this were me I would be very annoyed. To start, I wouldn’t want to spend the majority of my time building an ark for a flood that I can’t even be sure is going to happen and I can’t even imagine having to live with all the animals of the earth for such a long period of time. Then, as much as I love my family, I don’t think I could live with them on a smelly, most likely noisy, ark for 370 days without all of us getting on each other's nerves. To me this seems very unfair considering how Noah before was described as “ a righteous man. . . blameless in his age . . . (who) walked with God.”

If Noah was truly such a “righteous” person shouldn’t he have been rewarded for his behavior? I think this happened because Noah really wasn’t all that great of a person, just slightly better than everyone else, hence the “blameless in his age.” God had to find someone to save the animals and human species so he chose the best option out of a lot of bad options. But of course he still had to punish Noah, his family, and even the animals, so he stuck them all on an ark with pretty intolerable living conditions so they could learn a lesson. Thank you.

Grade 8 student Micah

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Micah

This past year, I played on the CJDS Rams volleyball team. During one game, we were behind and about to lose when the opposing team hit the ball to the back of the court. One of our teammates ran back, attempting to make a near impossible shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t work - and we lost the game.

Some teams would have blamed our friend. But we realized any one of us could have made the same mistake. All of us have dropped the ball at some point. But each of us needed to own up to our mistakes. After all, volleyball is a team sport, and the only way to win is if we cheer each other on, not put each other down, and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.

This idea - of responsibility - is a major theme in this week’s parsha.

In B’reishit, G-d created Adam and gives him one main rule to follow:

וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת 

Eat off any tree or bush except for the tree of knowledge. This is literally where the phrase “forbidden fruit” comes from. As we all know, Adam and Eve do eat the fruit. And then the story gets interesting.

Let’s start with the snake. According to the text, the snake first got Eve to touch the fruit. Then he got Eve to taste it. He’s certainly at least partially to blame.

Then, we have Eve. G-d told Adam that it was forbidden to EAT the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but Eve, in her discussion with the snake, adds that they cannot TOUCH it either. By creating this extra and unnecessary rule she allows herself to believe that if she touched the fruit and nothing happened, surely eating it would be fine as well. And it certainly wasn’t. By putting words in G-d’s mouth, eating the fruit, and by sharing it with Adam, Eve is also to blame.

Finally, we get to Adam. I personally think that Adam didn’t know what fruit he was eating, but he probably should have been more careful, and asked, ‘Hey, where is this fruit from?' Adam was careless in his actions. For this, he bears some blame as well.

Clearly, a lot went wrong in this story. There’s the eating of the fruit, of course… But my biggest concern is that there’s also a lot of finger pointing. It’s a classic tale of he said, she said, snake said.

When G-d asked if they ate from the tree, Adam blames G-d for putting Eve at his side. And he blames Eve for giving him the fruit in the first place. Then Eve, when confronted, said the serpent tricked her into taking a bite. But as I studied the text, it seemed clear to me that G-d wasn’t that mad about what they ate. Instead, I think He got angry that they didn’t own up to their mistakes.

G-d, and the parsha, are teaching us: take responsibility for your actions.

If you read the news these days, an interesting parallel can be found regarding the future of our planet. Despite all of the scientific evidence that humans have created our climate crisis, virtually no one wants to take responsibility. The people, countries and corporations who can bring about the greatest change, are failing to raise their hands. They won’t stand up for the planet we call home, the planet Hashem so beautifully and carefully built in six days.

In recent decades, many mistakes have been made and the blessings of the Earth have been taken for granted. The quests for convenience and economic growth have come at a devastating cost:

  • 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.
  • The melting of glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea levels to rise and extreme weather events like droughts, hurricanes and flooding.

The Earth has been neglected and abused - and no one seems willing to own up to it.  But unlike Adam, Eve and the snake, each of us must take responsibility. This planet is our Garden of Eden… if we are driven out - by flood, famine, name your natural disaster, we have nowhere else to go.

In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28 it says: In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.

As a 13-year-old, I know that the things I can personally do are somewhat limited. Recycle. Pass on plastic straws. Compost after kiddush - which I encourage all of you to do so please read the signs by the garbage cans at lunch! But the most important thing that I - and all of us - can do is raise our hands and make ourselves heard… like 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“What we should do as individuals,” said Greta, “is to use the power of democracy to make our voices heard and to make sure that the people in power cannot continue to ignore this.”

Just last month, on September 20th, millions of young people around the world did just that as part of a Global Climate Strike... raising their hands and their voices - to fight for their future.

For my Bar Mitzvah project I wanted to do something directly connected with my parsha. Thanks to a unique program at KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue on the south side of Chicago, this was pretty easy to do.

Since 2009, dozens of volunteers have transformed the shul's lawns and other spaces around the neighborhood into food-producing gardens, growing fruits and vegetables and distributing the harvests to those in need. As a volunteer, I learned how to build a tomato trellis, identify when radishes are ready to be pulled, that green beans like to climb (and they taste pretty great), and that it takes a lot of time and effort to go from planting to plate.

As a volunteer, I got my hands dirty - literally - and was able to take direct responsibility for the city I am proud to call home. This idea of planting, not for me, but for others, reminded me of a story I’ve heard many times throughout my Jewish life. 

In Taanit 23b it says: "While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

CJDS Grade 8 student Noa
Isabel

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Noa and Isabel

Moed tov Middle School,

Today we would like to talk about Sukkot!

How many of you built a sukkah this year? Well, we both did. Sukkot is a super fun and cheerful holiday. It is centered around community and we are supposed to invite others into our sukkahs to celebrate. So, why is Sukkot supposed to be a very joyous occasion? 

We just had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which we cried out to God and we focused on our sins this past year. They are both personal holidays and times for self-reflection. We are asking God for forgiveness in a desperate way and we are becoming vulnerable. 

Now that our name is inscribed in the book of life we should rejoice! It's time to celebrate after observing a holiday in which we focused primarily on ourselves as we reflected on our sins.

The Torah says that we must invite the stranger and the neighbor into our sukkah. Inviting our community into the sukkah is not only a mitzvah - it allows us to acknowledge others after focusing on just ourselves. 

What are some ways you connect you God in a positive and thoughtful way? One way that we feel we connect is by doing mitzvot. It gives us great pleasure to help people in our community and elsewhere. 

Director of Jewish Studies, Tamar Cytryn

Sukkot Family Learning by: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies

Chag sameach! Happy holiday!

Gather your family together for a conversation about what we do on Sukkot. Read the following text and discuss the questions below. When you're done, enjoy the two videos that follow!

We'd love to hear about any great answers or questions that arise!  

Leviticus 23:39-43

39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period; the first day shall be a rest day, and the eighth day shall be a rest day.

ל אַ֡ךְ בַּֽחֲמִשָּׁה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֜וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י בְּאָסְפְּכֶם֙ אֶת־תְּבוּאַ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֶת־חַג־יְהֹוָ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן וּבַיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֖י שַׁבָּתֽוֹן

40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.

מ וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַֽעֲנַ֥ף עֵֽץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים

41 And you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord for seven days in the year. [It is] an eternal statute throughout your generations [that] you celebrate it in the seventh month.

מא וְחַגֹּתֶ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ חַ֣ג לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֹתֽוֹ

42 For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths,

מב בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵֽשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת

43 in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.

מג לְמַ֘עַן֘ יֵֽדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֨בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהֽוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם

1) According to this text, what time of the year do we celebrate this holiday?  What did we just complete?

2) Why do you think we should be happy at this time of the year?

3) Can you identify at least two ways we should celebrate this holiday according to this text?  What are they?

4) What is the reason this text gives us for why we live in sukkot/booths on this holiday?

5) What questions do you have about this text?

   

Do you love the holidays?  Do you love Lego?  This is the video for you!

Sukkot is a time of the year when we welcome guests to our Sukkot and our homes.  Enjoy this video about hachnasat orchim/welcoming guests.

Director of Jewish Studies, Tamar Cytryn

Rosh HaShanah 5780 Family Discussion by: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies

This week we want to challenge our families to do some learning and thinking together around Rosh Hashanah! 

In the mishna (oral tradition) our Rabbis ponder what the shofar blasts should sound like. What kind of noise should we aim to produce when blowing the shofar? The mishna suggests it sound like a "יבבה", a "yevava", often translated as a wail or sob or whine.

There is only person in the Tanakh (our Bible) described as making these sounds.  It is a woman who only appears once and doesn’t even have her own name!

In Shoftim/Judges 5:28 it reads:

בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן נִשְׁקְפָה וַתְּיַבֵּב אֵם סִיסְרָא בְּעַד הָאֶשְׁנָב

מַדּוּעַ בֹּשֵׁשׁ רִכְבּוֹ לָבוֹא מַדּוּעַ אֶחֱרוּ פַּעֲמֵי מַרְכְּבוֹתָיו

“Through the window the mother of Sisera looked forth and sobbed, and peered through the window; why is his chariot late in coming? Why tarry the strides of his chariots?”   

Sisera was a very successful commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, He commanded an army that included 900 chariots. According to Judges chapters 4 & 5 Sisera was eventually defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali under the command of Barak and Deborah. The verse quoted above describes his mother waiting by the window for her son.

Questions

1.     What do you think the mother of Sisera is feeling at this moment?

2.     What do you think the Israelites felt at his defeat?

3.     Why do you think the Rabbis chose this particular woman to pattern the sound of the shofar after?

4.     Do you think there is a connection between her experience and our experience on Rosh Hashanah?

Wishing all a happy and sweet new year!

Nitai

D'var Torah by: Nitai, Grade 7

Here is a simple riddle... 

A basket contains five apples. How can you distribute those five apples to five different people and still have one apple left in the basket?

You give up? You give one apple each to four people, and give the fifth person the basket with the last apple still inside.  Simple, right?

This Torah portion also describes baskets filled with fruits, and these baskets were brought as gifts. The gifts, called bikkurim, were the first fruits of each year’s harvest.  Farmers brought these “gifts” to Jerusalem and presented them before the priest and ultimately sacrificed them to God. The verse states:

וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל־פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא וְהָלַכְתָּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם׃

“you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God will choose to establish His name.”

The Torah continues and a few verses later it commands the farmer not just to bring the fruits but “to rejoice in all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household”

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכָל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃ (ס)

Rashi, the medieval commentator adds that the farmer doesn’t just rejoice but needs to make a public statement when he brings the first fruits to demonstrate that he is grateful for all that he has been given.

Listen, I am just a kid, but it is pretty clear what is being described in the first verse -- “tax collection.” And then God commands the farmer to be happy about it!

Personally - I have never had to pay taxes, but to all the adults in the room, how many of you are rejoicing during that second week of April.  Or I’ll ask my Uncle David, the accountant. How many people run up to you when they hand over their W2s or are cutting their checks to the Federal Government rejoicing and make that public statement: “man - God is great!” 

But that is what this farmer is being asked to do, to make a dramatic speech, filled with joy when bringing his first fruits to Jerusalem .

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi known as the Netziv, builds on the verse and Rashi’s explanation and asks “What does it mean to rejoice in everything that is good? That it means “to rejoice with your body and soul together.”

The Netziv explains that the moment of bringing bikurim combines different types of happiness.  Happiness of the body - because we have lots of great fruit. And happiness of the soul because we are being reminded to feel gratitude. Feeling grateful comes from recognizing that these gifts, we bring to God are more appropriately framed as “gifts that God has given to us.”   Those fruits that we think come from all our hard work were gifts that we were actually granted.

So essentially, the torah flips the script and reframes the entire picture of giving.  That these gifts that come with us in the world, whether we are blessed with nourishment, like the farmer, or with talents or skills; they are truly gifts from God, and that what comes with these gifts is a responsibility to dedicate those gifts to giving back to our community and to the broader world.

But even more importantly, the Torah is teaching us that giving back is not done with any resentment, but just the opposite. It is done with joy, happiness, with gratitude in realizing that we have been blessed and privileged, and with that blessing comes the true gift of being able to help others.  We must understand that every opportunity to give means that we have been blessed with something to give.

It is very appropriate that this reframe is one of the main themes of my Torah portion, as I get to see these lessons play out all around me.  When I look at my 4 grandparents, My GG and Zayde, My Saba and Savta, who I am so blessed to have here today, they have all dedicated their lives to live by this approach; they have dedicated their time, energy and many talents to their communities with absolute Chen - with grace, and with gratitude to God.  They built their communities, in Kansas City, Silver Spring and now Jerusalem, not out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of gratitude and pleasure. And my parents work every day to emulate their parents and pass those same lessons to me and my siblings.

So it is today, as I stand as a Bar Mitzvah, that  it is my turn to make the public declaration, to use my passions and skills to give back to my community and the world at large; and to do this, not from a sense of obligation, but out of a sense of gratitude, responsibility, and joy.

And though I imagine that when I grow up, I too will not be praising God when I cut my first check, to the Federal Government, I do hope I can live up to lessons in my torah portion, and the bar set by my family so that I can always be a source of pride for this wonderful community!  Shabbat Shalom.

Torah

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitze, we find an important  commandment/mitzvah - something named shiluach haken, which roughly translates to sending away the mother bird. We are commanded to shoo the mother bird away if we plan on taking baby birds or eggs for our own consumption. If we fulfill this commandment/mitzvah then the Torah tells us it will be good for us and it will prolong our lives on this earth.  

In Deuteronomy/Dvarim chapter 22, verses 6-7 the Torah commands us:

6 If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 

כִּ֣י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר | לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶךְ בְּכָל־עֵ֣ץ | א֣וֹ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים֙ א֣וֹ בֵיצִ֔ים וְהָאֵ֤ם רֹבֶ֨צֶת֙ עַל־הָֽאֶפְרֹחִ֔ים א֖וֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִ֑ים לֹֽא־תִקַּ֥ח הָאֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים:

7 You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.

שַׁלֵּ֤חַ תְּשַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־הָאֵ֔ם וְאֶת־הַבָּנִ֖ים תִּקַּח־לָ֑ךְ לְמַ֨עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְהַֽאֲרַכְתָּ֖ יָמִֽים

Family Questions

1) Why might someone take birds or eggs from a nest?

2) What do you think it means when the Torah says "it should be good for you" if you fulfill this commandment?

3) What do you think it means when the Torah says "you should lengthen your days" if you fulfill this commandment?

4) There is only one other commandment/mitzvah in the Torah where you earn prolonged life if you do it, the commandment/mitzvah of honoring your mother and father. Can you think of any connection between these two commandments/mitzvot?

Grade 8 Bar Mitzvah student reads his dvar Torah

D'var Torah by: Noam, Grade 8

Means and Ends

One of the classic questions of philosophy is the relationship between ends and means. Do the ends, the goals that we are pursuing, justify the means that we use to pursue those goals. This question has occupied philosophers and politicians for thousands of years and one approach to this question appears in this week’s Torah portion.

Early in the parsha this week, we find the famous verse:

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה' אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ (ס)

Justice justice you shall pursue in order that you live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving to you.

Even though we know that the word צֶ֖דֶק means “justice” we don’t know why the word is repeated at the beginning of the verse. What does צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף mean?

Ibn Ezra offers the simplest explanation - but one that might be true. The Torah frequently repeats words just for emphasis.

R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) looks to the Gemara in Sanhedrin which interprets one tzedek for law and one tzedek for compromise. There is a need for judges to rule in a fair and just way whether they are engaging in law or facilitating compromise. 

He then asks: Why would there need to be a special mitzvah for judges to be impartial in cases when they are asked to facilitate a compromise? They would only ever be asked to arbitrate if they are trusted and respected by the litigants.. He answers that  sometimes there is an obligation to compromise and therefore judges must treat it just as seriously as when they are deciding a case of law.  

He then points to a gemara in Bava kama which states that the beit hamikdash was destroyed because people only followed the letter of the law and were not willing to compromise

R. Simcha Bunim of Peshischa offers a different interesting interpretation. 

One must pursue justice justly. The ends don’t justify the means. Just because you are trying to do something with good intentions doesn’t mean that you can go about achieving them in bad ways.  

We can see the relevance of this insight in contemporary debates about crime and punishment. The fourth amendment to the Constitution prohibits searches and seizures without a warrant. This is an example of pursuing justice justly. 

From this verse we can take away the importance of compromise,  and making sure we are doing things in a just and moral way.