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Parshas Shemini (Parah) 5771

The Jews and the News

By Rabbi David Zauderer

Question: What three things do the State of Israel and the Toronto Maple Leafs have in common?

Answer: (1) The colors of both are blue and white; (2) Everyone else hates them except for their fans, who love them no matter what they do; (3) The last time they both won big was in 1967.

This may be a cute joke, but there is actually one major thing that the State of Israel and the Toronto Maple Leafs absolutely do not have in common – and that is that, to the best of my knowledge, no hockey player on the team is in constant danger of being blown to bits on a bus or having a rocket smash into his living room.

The problem is, though, that many of us Jews hear/see/read the news about both the frequent attacks in Israel and the Leafs’ frequent wins and (more often) losses with about the same (lack of) interest and concern. And that’s kind of scary.

We are now less than a month away from the holiday of Passover, on which we celebrate our freedom from slavery and our rebirth as a Jewish nation.

It is clear from the Biblical narrative that the redemption would never have taken place without the leadership of Moses, whom G-d sent to deliver the enslaved Jews from the hands of the mighty Pharaoh. And our Sages teach us that Moses would not have been able to lead the Jewish people to freedom had he not had the middah, or character trait, of Nosei B’ol Im Chaveiro, sharing a friend’s burden.

You see, at that time, Moses was living a privileged life in the king’s palace, yet he took the time to go out and see his brethren who were suffering greatly at the hands of the Egyptians. As the Torah tells us, “It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens …” (Exodus 2:11).

Moses wasn’t content with just sitting back on a couch watching CNN reports on his 52-inch plasma TV about the Jewish people’s suffering, giving a little krechtz (a Yiddish word for grunting and saying ‘oy’) and then changing channels - like most of us do. He went out and ‘observed’ their burdens. Rash”i, in his commentary on the Torah, explains that Moses “set his eyes and heart to grieve and suffer with them”. This means that he made the effort to actually envision the pain and suffering that his fellow Jews were going through until his heart was filled with grief. And at that point, he had no choice but to act on their behalf.

The “Alter” from Kelm (Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida 1824–1898) explains in his classic work Chochmah U’Mussar that because Moses ‘set his eyes’ to focus on and feel the pain of the Jewish people, G-d acted in kind and also saw their suffering and He ultimately redeemed them. As the Torah states, “G-d saw the Children of Israel; and G-d knew” (Exodus 2:25). And Rash”i explains this to mean that G-d ‘set His heart on them’ and didn’t divert His attention from their suffering even for a moment.

I guess you could say that Moses taught of all us how the Jews should view the news. If we treat the terror attacks in Israel or the earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan as just another news item along with sports, the weather, the latest fashions, etc., we will never be able to effect positive change in the world.

When people are suffering around us or around the world, we need to follow Moses’ lead and ‘observe’ their burdens, trying our best to envision their pain and fill our hearts with their grief. Then, and only then, will we feel compelled to do something about it – and we will also hopefully merit that G-d will respond in kind and redeem us - putting all that pain and suffering to an end once and for all.

[To read an excellent essay about the character trait of Nosei B’ol Im Chaveiro, sharing in others’ pain, click on:]

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