Not long ago, we might have looked up from another lunch to pack or another bill to pay or another pointless meeting at work and say, “I want my life back.”
We meant that we wanted relief from the mundane tasks of the world, maybe a return to a spark of inspiration and connection instead of the deal thud of responsibilities on the assembly line of things we just have to do in order to keep life moving in something like the right direction any day of the week.
Wanting our lives back doesn’t mean that anymore. I can’t see a parent pick up a pacifier from the floor for the first or tenth time, scroll past the image of any face in my feeds, or even glance at my own children without thinking of the parents who are sleepless and tortured for weeks, begging to have their lives back.
They don’t know where their children are; they know that their children have been murdered. They cry out: “Give us our lives back!” It’s simply impossible to think of anything other than these souls locked in a vice of grief, loss, and uncertainty. It’s simply unbearable to imagine what these people have to bear. And yet, bear their burden without hesitation we must. Our essence as human beings and Jewish tradition make this responsibility clear.
Not long ago in the eternal template of hope, inspiration, and bitter truth called the Hebrew Bible, Cain slew Abel, his brother. Genesis 4:10 says:
The voice of your brother’s blood [demei] cries out to Me from the ground.
The Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a teaches that this verse does not say “Your brother’s blood [dam]” in the singular. It says “Your brother’s blood [demei]” in the plural. In other words, the loss of both his brother’s blood and the blood of his brother’s offspring are ascribed to Cain. Further on, a mishna notes that the phrase “Your brother’s blood [demei]” as written in the plural teaches that Abel’s blood was not gathered in one place, but rather was splattered on the trees and on the stones everywhere.
Please pause and take all of this in. The ancient nightmare is real.
The Talmud goes on to explain that in all of these senses, that anyone who destroys one soul from within the Jewish people – i.e. anyone who kills one Jew – it is as if he has destroyed an entire world. The opposite is also true: anyone who sustains one soul amongst the Jewish people, it is as if she has sustained an entire world.
We learn that with regard to Abel, and even more when applied to his father Adam, all humanity descended from one person, and that each and every person is obligated to say, “The world was created for me.” One person can be the source of all humanity that follows her or him, and the significance of every action of every soul has infinite value. Everyone and every life means everything to all of us.
As we pray and fight and cry out to God, embrace suffering families and our brave soldiers, demand responsibility from our half-blind government, and unflinchingly confront the cursed evil actors of Hamas and their deranged allies and supporters in ivory towers and office buildings and down the street, we demand something immemorial: Give us our lives back! In this we are embodying what is perhaps the essence of Jewish teaching – that we were created in the image of the Divine, and that all life and all that is done in life, is infinitely precious. To take a life is to destroy all of our forevers. And it boggles the mind. What do we do with such losses and responsibilities at this horrible time? How do we live with such a truth?
Every act, every breath, every sleepless night – our hearts and hands are focused on the miracle of life itself and how we can protect it, how we can defend it. Give us our lives back. Let us fulfill the teaching that saving each and every life is equivalent to saving a world.