These famous words of the great songwriter, Carole King, bring up a thought.
The end of Parshat Shoftim relates the halacha when finding an unidentified body in the desert. The Sanhedrin is called to measure a radius from the body to all of the nearest cities. The town that is closest to the body is then required to perform the mitzvah of “Egla Arufa”.
The elders of that town must bring a calf and kill it as an atonement, near a brook in a desolate area. They then, under the supervision of the Kohanim,“wash their hands” of the calf in the brook and declare that “our hands did not spill this blood and our eyes did not see”.
There is much symbolism connected to this ritual. The calf, like the murder victim, will not meet its potential. The brook is desolate just as the future of the victim.
Rashi brings the obvious question: How could we think that these righteous elders had anything to do with the death of this person? What was their sin that requires atonement and a declaration of innocence? He explains that the elders express that they did not see him and escort him with food for the way. The implication is that had they seen him, they would have certainly attended to him and provided food for the way.
What is the correlation between the death of this innocent person and the elders not noticing him? Why should the lack of attention bring even a remote sense of responsibility on their part?
Let us return for a moment to the stranger whose lifeless body was discovered in the desert.
Who was he or she? Where did they come from? Why were they traveling alone? What was their “story”?
The fact that the elders, and most likely no one else from the town, could not answer those questions, leads to an even stronger question.
Why didn’t they know about them? Why didn’t they see him or her?
When a new person shows up in your city, your neighborhood or community, they should be greeted and made to feel comfortable and welcome.
There are multiple examples in the Torah where we are reminded to be friendly to the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. Our forefather Avraham built a home open on all sides so that one could enter and feel welcome no matter from which direction they were coming. It didn’t matter to Avraham who the stranger was.
When someone new comes into our midst, it behooves us to reach out. A greeting, a smile, an introduction or invitation will turn the stranger into a guest.
Sometimes, however, we are so involved with our own lives that we tend to “not see” that new person. Perhaps herein lies the connection to the elders.
וְעֵינֵ֖ינוּ לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ “And our eyes did not see”
The guilt of the elders is not in their “spilling the blood” but rather in not seeing. A new person entered their midst and was not tended to.
Leaders must educate by example to be sensitive to the stranger.
A lack of interaction may cause the visitor to question their acceptance or self-worth. When they don’t feel welcome they may then choose to leave and seek another place. And on that journey they might meet up with someone dangerous.
When one feels that others care for them they will feel good about themselves and have the courage to defend themselves. If they question their own value, they could give up the will to carry on.
It is incumbent on the leaders of a community to ensure that everyone is noticed, whether the stranger or any of the members of the community.
It is not just for the leaders. It is a lesson for all of us.
The seemingly “insignificant” actions of greeting another human being with a smile or showing interest in their welfare is not just a courtesy. It can be the material to help fortify their own self-worth. The feeling that they are not alone but are noticed and appreciated can give another just the boost that they need.
Perhaps this is why the Rabbis teach us that Yosef sent “agalot/wagons” to his father through his brothers. The simple reason given is Yosef was sending a proof that it was in fact him by hinting to his father that “egla arufa” was the last topic that they had learned together.
I propose that the there was an additional message intended for his brothers. Yosef was telling them: “You sold me into slavery and sent me away without care or concern. One can’t send someone away without concern for their needs or state of mind. Thank G-d it turned out well for me, but that might not always be the case. No one should ever feel that that they are alone in this world”.
Never underestimate what your smile, greeting and sincere concern can do for another person.
They need to know that they are not alone. They have a friend.
Thank you, Carole King.