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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5770
Friday 15 January, 2010
Dear Community,
First and foremost, can I please ask everyone to support World Jewish Relief’s campaign for funds to help in Haiti (the details are given below). Uncounted people trapped, thirst, hunger, untended wounds, the dead and injured everywhere, utter fear, grief: - these are horrors we cannot begin to imagine and the least we can do is support those who are able to offer help.
The truth is that’s probably about as much as most of can realistically do and, naturally, we’re now going to continue with our everyday lives. But I don’t feel that it’s right simply to go on to write about something else. So I find myself asking what Judaism has to teach about shattering and appalling events like these.
Such scenes are not entirely unknown to Jewish history. The writer of the scroll of Lamentations had evidently witnessed similar horrors at first hand, even though their cause, the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans, was different. Bodies rot like rubbish on the earth, he records, children cry out to their parents for food then die of thirst and hunger in the streets. Those who die by the sword have it easier than those who starve, the author laments. There’s no one to help; nobody cares.
Nobody cares. Such is the sense of abandonment of which survivors of the Shoah have often spoken. Humanity, Elie Wiesel, writes in Night, his testament of Auschwitz, ‘humanity’ – there’s no such thing here. The sense of utter desertion spreads from the faces averted at the windows, to the hostile, jeering crowds, to the realisation that protection and salvation are out of reach, if they exist anywhere at all, and that when death comes nobody will care, or even know.
On an incomparably smaller scale, I often hear people talk about their lives and sufferings, of their particular anguish and the sense of isolation which surrounds them, so that, even if they are in the midst of other people, even sitting in the midst of our community, so deep a loneliness immures them that they feel they might as well be dwelling in a separate universe.
Perhaps the true measure of our humanity is how we reach beyond our mere self and are receptive to the feelings and realities of others. There may be little we can practically do, but this solidarity we must offer, that our hearts and hands are open. This applies most powerfully between individuals but it is not irrelevant to the relationship between nations.
Often, like now, it enables us to help save lives, and ‘whoever saves a single life is to be considered as if they had saved the entire world’ (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)
Shabbat Shalom
Jonathan Wittenberg

Please click here to support WJR's Haiti relief efforts.