While visiting Italy last week, my wife and I attended the Florence Jewish community’s memorial service for Dan Uzan, the Jewish man who was slain outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark. Two weeks earlier, soon after returning home from a week of meetings in England, I was informed that a kosher restaurant in London which we had visited was vandalized by a youth gang.
Funeral of Dan Uzan. (Photo credit: www.abc.net.au)
Local vs. Global
In Jewish law, there is a wise dictate called Aniyei Ircha Kodmim – literally “the poor of your city take precedence” – wherein each community has an obligation to address the needs of its citizens before assisting residents of other communities. Although this term technically focuses on charity, it is often expanded to include all forms of communal activity.
Having gained exposure to many Jewish communities, I find it fascinating to see the interplay between the importance of “taking care of your own” and the expansive concept of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh – that all of the Jewish people have a responsibility toward each other.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a significant increase in hate crimes across the globe. When we open our eyes to the struggles that our brethren face on a daily basis, it’s hard to put on blinders and focus exclusively on the needs of one’s sub-community. By interacting with Jews in foreign countries and internalizing their pain, one connects on a visceral level with the collective Jewish people. And these experiences help us recognize that we are all part of one global, albeit diverse, community.
What Can We Do?
I once read an enlightening article which presented a two-part explanation of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh: In addition to communal action, which forges us into a single nation wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the actions of each individual also affects the well-being of the entire nation. This concept, how individuals’ activities impact all Jews, reminds me of a beautiful story about how Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, when he was a diligent young student learning in Yeshiva, would spend a few nights a week learning Torah all night. Rav Kook’s chavruta (study partner), Avraham Shoar, recalled the following late night conversation in which Rav Kook explained why he felt compelled to learn all night: “He said to me in a secretive voice, ‘Do you know, perhaps just the two of us are now sustaining the entire world. Perhaps the Holy One, blessed be He, is judging the world right now. And mankind’s sins are being considered, and they outweigh the good. Now the angel Michael . . . picks up the words of our Torah learning and places them on the scale, and our words of Torah help outweigh the other side. If so, we have merited to sustain the entire world.’”
Perhaps, in addition to participating in communal activities that courageously battle the many faces of evil, we also need to commit on a personal level. Possibly we should appreciate that our private activities, performed away from the spotlight, have tremendous ramifications. Recommitting ourselves to noble ideals that we hold dear – be it increased Torah study or acts of kindness, making aliyah, or refocusing on Shalom Bayit, to name just a few – have the ability to “tilt the scales” and bring salvation to the Jewish people.
May the joyous holiday of Purim, which demonstrates the power of V’nahafoch Hu – of the Almighty turning things upside down and providing salvation when times appear to be most bleak – usher in a period of peace and tranquility.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.