Today, I look out over the Mediterranean from my rented apartment in the beautiful city of Haifa, and I give thanks to HaShem for all those who made it possible for me to live here. I am grateful to those who bravely fought to establish this country after WWII. I am grateful to those who have worked hard to make Israel the amazing country that it is and to those who defend it every day. Also, I am grateful to everyone who has helped my wife and me to immigrate to Israel and to become settled (we made Aliyah in November 2019). The caring efforts of Israelis past and present have made it possible for us and all the new Olim to become Israeli citizens.
Having care for others is not easy when everyone is stressed as we are right now. Stress triggered by healthcare and economic concerns can cause us to become brittle toward each other, and when that happens, it is harder for us to work collaboratively toward a solution. As our political representatives struggle with what do about the current situation, I think it is important for us to encourage and support them. They are in a tough position, and the decisions they make are not going to satisfy everyone, especially as they realize the limitations of contemporary political discourse to address the problem. Sooner or later the old business/political model of low taxation/decreased social safety network is going to have to fade away in light of scientific data and overwhelming humanitarian need. As they make this transition, politicians will need our patience and care, even as we expect them to do what is right and care for us.
The need to care for our neighbor is deeply embedded in our collective psyche, and we are reminded of it when we study certain passages in the Torah. For example, in Genesis 1:27 we read: “And G-d created mankind in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.” If, in our essence, we all reflect the Divine image, then the proper treatment of each other is the truest indication of respect for and faith in HaShem. Consider the following laws in Leviticus 19:15-18: “You shall not do unfairness in judgment. You shall not favor the lowly, and you shall not honor the great. In righteousness, you shall judge your fellow. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people; you shall not stand on the blood of your neighbor. I am HaShem. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Certainly, you shall correct your fellow, but you shall not incur guilt on his account. You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not bear a grudge against the children of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am HaShem.”
Not only is care for others a prominent value for us as Jews, but also, it is one that we need to model to the rest of the world. Throughout the Tanakh, we are instructed to be an example that will benefit others. For example, in Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham was called by HaShem to leave everything he knew in order to receive HaShem’s blessings and then, in turn, be a blessing to others. In spite of living in a time of spiritual darkness, Abraham had great faith in HaShem and thereby created a theological ripple effect that eventually would change the world.
Abraham’s example reverberated down through the generations into the time of Moses, and Moses, after leading the Israelites out of slavery, was given the following message from HaShem in Exodus 19: “Now, if you certainly hear my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be to Me a treasured possession from all of the peoples, because all of the earth belongs to me. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:5-6). In my interpretation, being referred to as a “holy nation” involves embracing the nature of HaShem as the Holy One and being set apart in all aspects of life, from food laws to ethical behavior. To the extent that ancient Israel was able to embrace being a holy nation and a kingdom of priests, Israel was an example to the nations, leading them out of the darkness of polytheism and perversion.
While ancient Israel struggled at times to carry out its mission due to both internal and external issues (including the destruction of the First Temple and subsequent exile in Babylon), Israel’s enormous importance to HaShem as a positive influence in the Ancient Near East is clearly stated in the Prophetic Book of Isaiah as follows: “I am HaShem. I called you (Israel) in righteousness; I seized your hand and guarded you. And I set you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness from a house of bondage” (Isaiah 42:6-7).
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Jewish spiritual leadership in the world took on a different form. In spite of horrible persecution and violence against the Jewish people, the blessing of Abraham was transmitted to the nations via our ancestors who were dispersed throughout many regions of the world. Through the teachings and example of the Rabbis, people in many nations were blessed to encounter monotheism, the moral mandates of the Torah, care for neighbor, and the concept of the rule of law, which was a foundational idea for the development of the system of democracy. While the nations of the world were making decisions about whom they were going to serve, our Rabbis kept us focused on HaShem through prayer and Torah study until which time Israel once again became a nation.
Today, the world faces a new challenge, and we are in a position to do something about it. It is obvious that the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of social, economic, and healthcare structures in each nation. For too many years, scientific evidence of global climate change was ignored while business interests were elevated beyond what was best for the health and well-being of people around the world. Now, people are hungry, angry, and restless. They are concerned about their survival, and they wonder if anyone cares about them. In response to the growing unrest in each nation, some nations are shifting politically, with some leaning heavily toward authoritarianism. Clearly, the time has come for a politics of care, but who will lead the way?
Now more than ever, I believe the nation of Israel needs to step fully into a role of leadership in the world by keeping the laws of the Torah, changing our political discourse, setting aside irrelevant issues, taking care of the financial and healthcare needs of our own citizens, and then addressing environmental issues that affect everyone, thereby setting an example for the rest of the world to follow, being a light to the nations as we care for our neighbors.