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Chukat-Balak: What Can I Do About the Ongoing Killings in Israel?

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Every responsible person is asking today: “What can I do about the deteriorating situation in Israel?” And for that matter, “the constant threat of attack in America as well.”

This is not the space or time to address those that are just not asking the question for whatever reason. But even for those of us that are wondering what we can do, the answer seems to be not that simple, and the resulting consequences of answering – or not answering this question – are far reaching.

When tragedy strikes around us, there is no such thing as a neutral position. You are either going to do something about it or not. Yes, it may be easier to go into denial and ignore events around us, but as Maimonides writes,

“when a calamity strikes the community we must cry out, examine our lives and correct our ways.  To say that the calamity is just the way of the world and a coincidence is cruel and insensitive.”

We really have no choice but to find a way to respond to today’s crisis. If we do not, we do not remain untouched, our psyches become paralyzed by our inaction, and this paralysis will undermine and erode our self confidence in all areas of life. We MUST act. Period.

To think that the problem is not ‘ours’ but someone else’s is quite foolish especially after September 11th.

We learn from the sin of the scouts (see essay of two weeks ago, The Birth of Projection) that we do not ask “WHETHER we can do it,” we ask “HOW we can do it.”

So, what can we do? I believe that the best way to answer the question is by sharing with you what I and some others are doing. There is a time for words and there is a time for action. When we witness daily loss – senseless loss – of lives in Israel, words are simply inadequate. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says, when a question is asked that you cannot answer, tell a story. If that does not work, sing a song.

Last night I had the honor and privilege to sing a song together with an extraordinary group of people, including four special individuals who have directly suffered loss in recent months. Two women who tragically lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attack on September 11. One woman whose mother was shot dead by a terrorist sniper near Efrat, Israel. Another woman who suffered severe wounds in a terrorist suicide homicide in Ben Yehuda…

I kid you not when I tell you that someone actually fainted in the room of approximately 200 people when one of these women shared her gripping and heartbreaking story.

Man, if you wanted reality, you should have been there last night. Real life. Real death. And, above all, real strength and hope.

You see, a group of us, initiated by a student of mine, Lauren Finkelstein, gathered together last night, at the launch event of a project called Save One Person, Save the World. Based on the words of the Mishne, that when you save a life you save the entire universe, we came together to encourage each other and to create a global awareness of the fact that you CAN and MUST do something today. By helping or saving the life of a person you save the universe.

This is not a cliché, it is a real fact. The Torah teaches us that the value of life is not defined quantitatively, but qualitatively. Every life is an entire world. Do not underestimate the effect you have when you share kind words and soothe another soul.

Last night we tasted an experience of what simple individuals like us can actually do in response to all the pain and loss around us, and to the clouds of uncertainty hanging over us. As the immortal words of Kaddish echoed through the room and through our souls, as we heard the emotional message of hope and strength from the real survivors – two hundred of us committed to changing the world in our own way.

The greatest and most powerful response to the terror around us is by doubling and tripling our effort in helping those around us. As much as you have done until now, go out of your way and lend your hand to another – financially, emotionally, spiritually – in whatever way possible.

Do something to save a life, and you save not just that life but the life of the entire universe.

Simplistic or not, this is the time tested method that has kept the Jewish people here for eternity. This is the message that we learn from our great ancestors. This is the power that we draw from the great Rebbe, Reb Yosef Yitzchak, who was miraculously liberated from Soviet prisons this Shabbat (Tammuz 12) 75 years ago. A man who stood up to the formidable and murderous Stalinist regime, a man who faced the abyss many a time, and did not just survive, but single handedly created a rebirth, reaching even the American shores, as one of the most powerful forces in today’s Jewish renaissance.

Do not stand by as an observer on the sidelines. Act. Do your thing today to help another person. Add an additional mitzvah. Keep Shabbat and Kashrut. Light a Shabbat candle tonight before sundown. Study Torah. Pray. All people – commit to the universal Divine laws that transform this world into a holier place.

We are not victims or mere observers. Our actions matter now and forever.

Our blood boils when we hear about those that were silent during the Holocaust. When we will be asked one day: “What did you do about the tragic events happening around you?” what will your answer be?

I for one do not want to be left with no answer, or worse yet, an answer that I did nothing. I want to know that I did everything in my power. I hope you feel the same.

Let us create a true revolution. Let us reconnect to our Divine mission. Let us move heaven and earth with our actions. We have been promised that when we do, we will save the universe – literally.

In Honor of the Kedoshim (sanctified ones)

Gregory Richard – Dovid ben Terry

Thierry – Eliyahu ben Mordechai

and Sarah

All lives ripped away from us by terrorists in America and Israel.

Hashem yinkom domom. May their blood cry out to heaven and earth and be avenged

May we honor their lives by saving and helping lives around us.

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