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Tipping the balance

What can help balance out the heavy weight of murdered innocents? Random acts of kindness for strangers

Last Friday night, I lit an extra candle for Shabbat. My children asked me why and I explained that because of all the terrible things that have happened in our country over the past week, the darkness and the pain that has enveloped us, we need extra light and this was a symbol of that light.

Jerusalem feels heavy and sad. It is in the air and it is hard to breathe through the sorrow. The heat wave that has settled over our region only adds to the feeling of doom.

People are exhausted, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Terrible things have happened here, red lines have been crossed, and innocents have been murdered.

Shira Banki z”l, a beautiful and clever young high school student, was brutally stabbed and murdered by a madman as she joined her friends and classmates at the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance parade on Thursday.

Shira was the future of this city; a student at the Hebrew University High School, the most prestigious school in the city and probably one of the only schools in the world that can boast two Nobel laureates amongst its graduates. A school that takes our very best and brightest and educates them to be the future leaders of our country. She was at the parade to support friends and the values of freedom and tolerance on which she had been raised.

And then, on Friday morning, we awoke to the news that an innocent toddler and his family were burnt in their sleep, their house set aflame. The enormity of such evil, to set ablaze the home of a young family for no reason, is something we cannot comprehend. Ali Dawabsha, just 18 months old, did not survive the inferno, his four-year-old brother and parents are fighting for their lives.

And both these great evils apparently came from within us and that makes it hurt all the more.

Our people, who have always been a minority, know too well the pain and suffering of being targeted for being different, for being the other. The great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes in his excellent book, The Dignity of Difference, “We encounter God in the face of a stranger. That, I believe, is the Hebrew Bible’s single greatest and most counterintuitive contribution to ethics. God creates difference; therefore it is in one-who-is-different that we meet God. Abraham encounters God when he invites three strangers into his tent.”

In the promised land of today, we have murdered those strangers. Our land is out of balance, bad things have happened to good people and we need to tip back the scales.

In the aftermath of another dark, dark day in our city, the slaughter of eight young boys at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in 2008, it was the words of its founder that helped us find an answer as to how to overcome such an incomprehensible evil.

HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine wrote in ‘Eretz Cheifetz’:

“Those who are pure and righteous do not complain about evil, but increase justice. They do not complain about godlessness, but increase faith.They do not complain about ignorance, but increase wisdom.”

In our country today, we see and feel the evil, the godlessness and the ignorance and now we need to work together to increase justice, faith and wisdom.


Little kindnesses to one another will be the shards of light that will shatter this darkness that weighs heavily upon us.

The light rail goes on a flash strike: stop at the bus shelter and offer a ride to the worried commuters trying to get to work on time; invite the harried mother and her five kids outside in the blazing heat to step into your building for a glass of cold water and a bathroom break; take the time to put out a bowl of water for stray cats on your street. Tiny acts of hesed that will join together like rays to break through the dark cloud.
Such small kindnesses are infectious, they play forward, the light will return.

Late last night a post went viral on the Israeli internet: a story of a bride and groom at their wedding party with only a sad handful of guests and a near-empty hall. Both the bride’s parents had died in the last two years and she had lost her brother just a few weeks ago. It was a sad wedding.

In our tradition, it is a great mitzvah to bring joy to a bride and groom on their wedding day, and thus the call went out over the social media for people to come and support the newlyweds.

And they came in droves. People organized rides with complete strangers to get to the event and within the hour some 2,000 people filled the hall to overflowing. Religious and secular, young and old, from near and from afar, bearing gifts and writing cheques for a bride and groom whose names they did not even know.

And the much-needed light burst through. We had remembered who we are: a crazy people whose mission is care for the less fortunate, the widow and the orphan, to respect those who are different from us: to be a light unto the world.

And only like this, by joining together and being kind to one another, will we succeed in tipping the balance back into place.


About the Author
Rachael Risby-Raz is the International Relations Manager of the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and a former Diaspora Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel.
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