In the Talmud, Beitzah 32b, we are taught:
כׇּל הַמְרַחֵם עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁהוּא מִזַּרְעוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ וְכׇל מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְרַחֵם עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁאֵינוֹ מִזַּרְעוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ
“Anyone who has compassion on their fellow human beings, it is known that they are descendants of Abraham our father; and anyone who does not have compassion on their fellow human beings, it is known that they are not descendants of Abraham our father.”
I was a senior in college when the Iran - Iraq War broke out, and I attended a regional Hillel Shabbaton shortly after the war started -- two enemy nations of Israel fighting each other in a vicious, all-out war. The scholar-in-residence for the weekend was Dr. David Altshuler who at the time was a professor of Jewish Studies at George Washington University. During a discussion of the war, he said “do not for a minute think that Jews should be happy about this war.” One of the other students asked him why, and he responded “because people are killing each other.”
And yet -- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book The Dignity of Difference passionately makes the case as to why it is morally appropriate to care for your own people more than you care for humanity as a whole. Rabbi Sacks says that we do not learn to love by loving humanity as a whole; we learn to love by loving specific people. As a human being, you understand that all children deserve a home, food, and education. As a parent, if you don’t provide the necessities of life for your own children and instead donate that money to charity to help all children enjoy these things, you are not a tzaddik but a fool or a psychopath. We provide for the needs of our own first -- and having done that, we then help others. As Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself only, what am I?”
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I often listen to Israeli radio (Reshet Gimmel -- The Home of Israeli Music) in the car. As I was driving around yesterday morning, the Israeli pop was interrupted every few seconds by yet another announcement directing residents of this or that area of this or that town in Israel to go to their bomb shelters.
Those of you who were part of Kehilat Shalom during the summer of 2014 may remember that I participated in a Conservative movement solidarity trip to Israel during the conflict with Hamas at that time. Then like now Hamas was firing missiles indiscriminately at Israeli towns -- which is a war crime. While our group was visiting the Conservative synagogue in Ashkelon three missiles fell harmlessly in a nearby park. That night while we were in our hotel in Jerusalem, we were awakened by sirens and instructed to head to the bomb shelters of the hotel. It is a scary experience to say the least. The Iron Dome system developed by Israel and funded in large part by U.S. military aid, does an excellent job of shooting down incoming missiles, but it is not perfect -- in Ashkelon an elderly woman who was unable to move to a bomb shelter and her 32-year-old Indian caretaker were killed yesterday when a rocket hit their home.
As human beings we should be concerned about the loss of life on both sides of the conflict, but as Jews -- many of us who have friends and relatives in Israel -- we have special concern for Israelis who are under fire.
If you want to understand more about what’s happening and what led up to it, you can join a special briefing tomorrow, Thursday May 13 at 5 pm with Ambassador Dennis Ross, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. For more information and to register, go here.
As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian