There is a wonderful idea in the story of Noah that I always think of in times like this. When Noah and his family boarded the ark, the description is somewhat awkward. “Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, went into the Ark… “(Genesis 7:7) It would have been more natural to say “Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives.” But we know that the Torah has a reason for everything. Noah was listed separately from his wife and his sons were listed separately from their wives to teach us an important lesson. The world was being destroyed. It was a terrible tragedy. This was not the time to indulge in the pleasure of marital intimacy. It would be the height of callousness to seek that kind of personal joy while the rest of the Almighty’s creation is being obliterated.
I once read a contemporary version of this attitude. When the news of the fate of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War began to trickle in to America, there were those who continued in an attitude of “business as usual.” But there were others who adopted a variation of the lesson in Noah. One of the prominent Rebbetzins of that time was not living in the lap of luxury but she had one indulgence. Every night after dinner she would enjoy her tea with honey. But when she heard the news, she gave it up. How could she enjoy her “treat” when her brethren were suffering like that? How could she not do something, give up something, to demonstrate her empathy, her caring?
We are not enjoined to refrain from physical intimacy at a time of challenge for the Jewish people. In fact the Jewish women in Egypt are praised for going out into the fields to seduce their tired, despairing husbands and in so doing continue to create a future for the Jewish people. To demonstrate hope, to continue to proliferate, in the face of our enemies is perhaps the best revenge of all!
And yet we feel we must do something. How can we witness the daily struggles of our brothers and sisters in Israel and yet go about our lives as if nothing has changed? We can’t and most of us don’t. The Jews of America and even those in Israel not involved in the fight are doing acts of kindness non-stop – sending money, clothing, toiletries, gifts – and most of all prayers! In my daughter’s small neighborhood in Jerusalem, a call went out for homemade cookies to send to the troops in Gaza. They were flooded with 200 batches! The giving is amazing, inspiring, awesome and unifying. But perhaps we could do more.
Everyone has to make their own decision, their own choice, find their own place but I want to suggest that we also give up something while Israel remains under siege – maybe that latte from Starbucks, maybe that mid-afternoon cookie, maybe that extra pair of shoes, maybe that daily piece of chocolate – just something. It can be very small. It can be very private. You don’t need to tell me and I’m not telling you. But it’s a daily reminder; the Jewish people is in trouble. They need our help, they need our support, they need our prayers.
It’s an aspect of sensitivity. It suggests that we don’t just care about their struggles, we identify with them. Their struggles are our struggles. Forfeit a small indulgence so that we don’t become calloused and so we continue to feel as one.
In Dennis Prager’s book “Why the Jews?” he says that people attack the Jews for only caring about each other. He responds that it’s not that Jews only care about each other but rather that only Jews care about each other. Let’s continue to demonstrate in as many different and varied ways that we can that his words are true.