In chapter 14 of Genesis our forefather Abraham is described as ‘ha’Ivri’ – usually translated as “the Hebrew.”
יָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י וְהוּא֩ שֹׁכֵ֨ן בְּאֵֽלֹנֵ֜י מַמְרֵ֣א הָאֱמֹרִ֗י אֲחִ֤י אֶשְׁכֹּל֙ וַאֲחִ֣י עָנֵ֔ר וְהֵ֖ם בַּעֲלֵ֥י בְרִית־אַבְרָֽם׃
A fugitive brought the news to Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner, these being Abram’s allies.
According to the Midrash the name Ivri refers to the fact that:
“The whole world was on one side (ever), and he on the other side” (Bereshit Rabbah 42:8)
Rav Soloveitchik z’tl, in his classic work Kol Dodi Dofek tells us:
“The historical loneliness of the Jew percolates from a feeling of compulsive fate. He is as alone in his life on earth as in his death….In truth, Judaism and withdrawal from the world are synonymous. Even before the exile in Egypt, separateness descended upon our world with the appearance of the first Jew (referring to Avraham).
Rav Soloveitchik’s words feel truer than ever today. Unfortunately, it really feels like the Jewish people are on one side and the rest of the world is on the other. A shocking, and frankly unimaginable rise in antisemitism around the world has left us reeling and feeling alone. We are scared for our soldiers in the IDF, family and friends in Israel. We are scared for our children in universities. We feel alone.
Rather than dwell on the fear and antisemitism, I would like to explore (briefly) the concepts of community and morality found in the writings of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z’tl.
We have witnessed an almost miraculous unity in the Jewish People around the world since October 7. Israel, before the tragic massacres, appeared to be falling apart politically and socially. Ironically for Hamas, October 7 has unified not only the population of Israel but Jews worldwide. We have found a new sense of global Jewish community. Rabbi Sacks tells us:
“Community is the human expression of Divine love. It is where I am valued simply for who I am, how I live and what I give to others. It is the place where they know my name.” (Celebrating Life p149)
But more importantly, “Community is society with a human face – the place where we know we’re not alone.” (From Optimism to Hope p14).
Thankfully, since October 7, America, Britain and others have shown us that we are not alone. Our greatest weapon against loneliness is the communities that we build together as a people.
Over the past few weeks, I have been scared. I have sensed that some of us have suffered from a reduction in our empathy and sympathy. Whilst this may not be the majority, many have expressed views in relation to the population of Gaza which they probably did not hold before October 7. I have been told several times by friends and strangers ‘I have lost sympathy/empathy.’ Sitting in a bar in New York recently, two strangers told me that they had sympathy for the population of Gaza (not Hamas) before October 7 but that this was now gone.
For Rabbi Sacks responding to a crisis poses us with a real challenge:
“The real test of a society is not the absence of crises, but whether we come out of them cynical and disillusioned, or strengthened by our rededication to high ideals.”
We must double down on our high ideals and maintain our moral compass, now more than ever!