Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Parshas Yisro 5775, February 2015, Ahava l'Chaveiroh (love for your neighbor)

This morning an upsetting event occurred locally; a bomb threat was called in to a local private school that serves students from elementary through post-high school age who have autism or related cognitive learning disabilities. This school has been a long standing fixture in a very wealthy, rather Jewish neighborhood for decades. It is sited in fact across the street from a Chabad shul, next door to a Young Israel shul, and half a mile from another Orthodox shul.  (note: I am deliberately not naming the school or the neighborhood for security reasons; second note is that I realize I am expressing a certain amount of disappointment and anger, and so these words may later be edited)
Several of the Special Olympics athletes here shown attend the school in question;
the child in yellow is my own son who attends another school

When the main road to the front of the street was closed off by police, I began to see Facebook posts from several Jewish women friends who live in the neighborhood.  I saw many. Not one initially expressed dismay that children and youth with communication disabilities and a need for continuity and routine were threatened, disrupted, and in fact thrown out in the cold in weather that was approximately 25F (school buses were brought in as warming stations for those students who had left their own buses, but it took time). Rather, people complained about the traffic disruption. Even more upsetting to me as a Jew, people expressed joy and relief that it was the school for children with disabilities that had been threatened rather than one of the synagogues.

In this week's parsha, we read of Yisro's arrival among the b'nai Yisroel and their complete acceptance of him and Moshe's wife and children despite Yisro and Tzipporah's origins in Midyan. We read explicitly that G-d instructed Moshe to first instruct the women of b'nai Yisroel to prepare for matan Torah, and to do so gently; and then to sternly direct the men of the community (Shemos Rabbah, Tiferet Tzion). Why? Because women are wiser at a younger age; the women would teach the children; Chava was not taught directly first and led Adam to sin but had she been taught first she might have not only avoided but even prevented sin; and because the b'nai Yisroel were redeemed in the honor of the righteousness of the women (Rokeach).

The very first of the aseres hadibros is "Anochi…" I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt. G-d had rachamim, mercy, and ahava, love, for us, and chose to redeem us. Moreover, he expressed love for every nation on earth and gave each the opportunity to accept the Torah, as well as allowing them all to experience the sensory facts of the splitting of the Yam Suf to ensure they know full well that this was in fact communication from G-d H-mself.

G-d tells Moshe directly in the parsha (Shemot 18:20): "And you will warn them regarding the statutes and the teachings, and you will make known to them the path on which they shall walk and the deeds they should do."

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky cites this pasuk and Bava Kama that this refers to three areas of chessed: acts of general kindness, bikkur cholim, and chessed shel emes.  True chessed for the other he gives examples for, including the mother of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who once saved a Jewish girl on a train from a Nazi by placing her own (very pregnant) body between the two and threatening to that every other passenger on the train would follow her own lead in refusing to comply with allowing the Nazi to take the girl. True chessed, says R' Pruzansky, is not a teaching of the Torah or a part of a mitzvah; rather it is the very foundation of Torah and goodness, that which G-d expects of every Jew and in fact of every human being, Jewish or not.

Had the bomb threat this morning been at any of the Jewish schools my acquaintances' own children attend, I am absolutely sure they would not have first complained of inconvenience in commuting, or relief that it was others and not their own synagogue threatened. They would have thought of their children, frightened, cold, confused, endangered. They would have been thinking only whether they themselves should run to their cars to go to their children, whether the children were with their own familiar teachers or bus drivers, whether the children were safe. At all times, though, that is how we as Jews are expected to feel. We must feel for others as we feel for ourselves. Not only "what is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor," but "love your neighbor as you love yourself," and "he who saved a single life it is as if he had saved a whole universe." Take note; not one of these specifies only your Jewish neighbor and his life.
These children and those below (the boy in blue at the right above is my son and
the very short girl who is the one of the oldest shown in the photo below are my own
children) are at a Jewish day school and a JCC. Had either of those sites been threatened,
I expect their would have been a very different initial reaction in the Jewish community
than "this is inconvenient," of "thank goodness it's not our synagogue threatened, all
is well, then.

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