Sharpening Our Empathy for Our Brethren


rav moshe meir weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

What happened in Paris with the horrifying massacre in cold blood of 190 innocent people caused outrage, sympathy, and concern throughout the entire civilized world.  As Jews, our reaction was similar as we mourn for the senseless loss of life and hurt for the suffering of the many families of the victims that will never be the same again.  But, many of us have a second reaction.  That is of wonderment.  Why is it, when 12,000 Jews were gassed every day in Auschwitz and subsequently burnt in the crematoria, there was no such global outrage?  When Nazis in Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Majdanec, Sobibor and many other death camps, were ruthlessly murdering multiple myriads of Jews weekly, where was an outcry for a single coalition?


At this point, the reader will say to him or herself, “Rav Weiss, wake up and smell the coffee!  This is just another manifestation of what we are taught:  Eisav sonei es Yaakov, the goy despises Yaakov (otherwise known as the ugly head of anti-Semitism).”  You could be saying to yourself, “Rav Weiss, don’t be so naïve.  We are taught that as Jews we are a Seh bein shivim z’veidim, a sheep among 70 wolves.”  While there is much truth to this sentiment, and it behooves us to remember – especially in the Diaspora – that the goy is friendly up to a point (but not when the chips are down), there is another dynamic at play over here.


When reports came that Jews were being methodically slaughtered by the thousands, the secular Americans didn’t take it to heart, thinking, I’m not Jewish, it doesn’t relate to me.  While that sounds callous, there were also many who couldn’t get overly upset over the horrors of apartheid.  It just didn’t relate to them at all.  However, when one hundred and ninety people are brutally slaughtered while at a concert, while they are relaxing in restaurants and are killed in cold blood, or while enjoying a leisurely soccer game and have their lives insanely ended, that is something that screams, “This could happen to me to!” and this causes a public outrage.


You might wonder why I am so eager to do an analysis of why things do or do not bother people.  Is this forensic study going anywhere?  It’s because I believe that we too are guilty of such inattention.  When here in America we get daily reports of murderous stabbings in Eretz Yisroel, while we of course are horrified and saddened, many of us go about our regular routines without too much of a change.  After all, the small voice says inside of us, “Look, they choose to live among Arabs so that’s going to happen,” and since it doesn’t relate directly to our life’s circumstance, we don’t allow it to bother us for more than a fleeting moment.  If G-d forbid, there would be stabbings on the streets of Boro Park and Monsey, our reactions would linger much longer and be more acute.  It’s our job to try to become more empathetic even though the events, for now, are transpiring thousands of miles away for these events are happening to our brothers and sisters.  Yes, I said brothers and sisters not metaphorically but in reality for we all share a common Parent, our Father in Heaven.


Many who read the above might rebel and say is Rav Weiss drawing some analogy from the behavior of the Nazis?!! Those inhuman, sadistic, mass murderers. Let’s remember that Paroh was a mass murderer. He killed myriads of Jewish babies and bathed in the blood of  300 infants daily. Yet we learn all about him in the Torah-partly to insure that we never become like him! As we are taught in Pirkay Avos, “Eizehu chochom halomeid mikal adam-who is wise he who learns from all men.” This begs the question what can one learn from the wicked person? And the answer is, we learn what not to do. This is the lesson that I’m employing in this article.


I’d like to leave you with one concrete prayer in which to have more concentration during this harrowing time of crisis.  It’s what we say in Maariv in the blessing of Hashkiveinu.  There we say, “V’hoseir mei-aleinu oyeiv, dever, v’cherev – Remove from us the enemy, pestilence, and sword.”  Thus we see that this is a very contemporary plea, that the enemy with the sword should be removed from us.  The homicidal Arabs should cease to be a problem.  Do not take your daily prayer lightly.  It’s possible that a whole-hearted prayer said here, in a minyan, from these American shores can cause the knife to miss its mark.


I’d like to add one more thought.  The mentioning of pestilence in between the words ‘enemy’ and ‘sword’ doesn’t seem to be sequential, for unless it refers to chemical warfare, pestilence is not generated by an enemy; it’s a natural occurrence.  Why is it sandwiched between oyeiv and dever.  I’d like to suggest that the word dever also means ‘speaking’ and it alludes to the fact that this is the way the enemy gets close enough to wield the knife – by engaging the person in conversation and thus getting within striking distance.


In the merit of strengthening our empathy and energizing our prayers, may Hashem spare Klal Yisroel from any further losses and may we all be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

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