Do You Care?


I was always taken aback by the studies that show how many people will ignore a crime perpetrated before their very eyes. Stories abound about street muggings with passersby briskly running along, avoiding confrontation and disregarding the cries of the victim. “How could people be so insensitive?” I would wonder. “Would they like to be ignored if they were in such a predicament?”

Until the moment I found myself in this precise situation. Sometime after midnight on a cold winter night I heard muffled sounds through my window. Peering outside I saw two men assaulting a third, evidently in the process of robbing him.

My first reaction was fear. Are they carrying a weapon? If I go outside will I be placing myself in danger? Can I even help this person? All types of excuses were racing through my mind to justify not intervening. I could just call the police and wait till they came. But despite all my superhuman efforts to avoid the situation, I quickly realized that I was succumbing to being sub-human in ignoring the cries of a man in need. And regardless of my knee-jerk instinct to protect myself at the expense of another, I grabbed a shovel at the door and ran out of my house yelling at those guys. I ran down the steps and as I approached the crime scene, the men dashed off, leaving a trembling elderly man – whom I recognized as our neighbor – slumped on the ground and bleeding slightly. I helped him up, walked him into his home and attended to his needs.

And no, I do not consider myself a hero. I simply did the humane thing. But I will never forget the temptation to look the other way, which, frankly, was quite embarrassing.

How many crimes and injustices in the world – and in history – would have been prevented had some people – someone, anyone – protested and intervened?

How many people today standing right near you are being hurt and no one really cares?

How many of us are wounded with no one asking us how we feel?

From time immemorial gentle mystics and sensitive souls have pondered upon the disturbingly absurd paradox of a universe that is integrally connected and interdependent, and yet we can so easily ignore the pain of another (or even hurt another) even though it also injures us. The Jerusalemite Talmud succinctly captures it with this blunt question: If we humans are all part of one organism, how can one part of the body harm another? Does it make any sense that the left hand would strike the right hand if it was misbehaving?

The only conceivable answer is that we are not aware. We do not feel that we are all part of one entity. And this is one of the saddest elements of existential loneliness: The illusion that each of us is all alone. That each of us is self-contained and separate from everyone else. That your pain is yours alone. No one cares and no can even understand what you are going through.

All of Torah comes to counter this myth. As Hillel declared: “That which you dislike do not do unto others. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary.” This is consistent with and complements Hillels’ other statement: “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” We are each individuals, and at the same time interconnected and interdependent. When one of us is hurting all of us are hurting.

We may not feel it, but that does not diminish the reality.

One verse in this week’s Torah portion encapsulates this message. But first, a short introduction.

My father, journalist Gershon Jacobson, once went to the see the Rebbe. At some point in their conversation, the Rebbe smilingly said to my father: “Being that you are a newspaperman, would you like to interview me?”

My father hesitated and then inquired of the Rebbe whether he can ask him anything. “Yes, indeed,” the Rebbe replied. “Isn’t that the nature of an uncensored interview?”

Included among the questions my father asked was the following: “People wonder why the Rebbe takes on causes that others ignore, sometimes even seemingly impossible situations?”

The Rebbe responded by citing a verse in this week’s Torah chapter, which describes one of Moses’ first experiences: “It happened in those days that Moses grew up and he went out to his brethren and observed their burdens. Moses witnessed an Egyptian striking a Hebrew man of his brethren. He turned this way and that way and he saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11-12).

The Rebbe wondered: “Why did Moses look all around, and only when he so no man, did he strike the Egyptian? In this time of crisis, was Moses so concerned about his own well-being? And if so, why do we have to be told that detail? The fact is that despite Moses’ v caution, two men actually witnessed his act and later informed on him. So clearly this verse has some other message to tell us.

“’He looked all around and saw no man’ can be interpreted to mean that he saw ‘no man’ that cared – no one was concerned about the travesty being perpetrated against their fellow men. Moses however did care. So he proceeded to do what is necessary to protect innocent people from brutal genocide.”

“When we witness an injustice and look around and no one seems to care,” the Rebbe concluded, “we must act.”

That defines a leader. Someone who cares when everyone else is busy with their own interests. Certainly, important interests, but still self driven ones.

A leader is someone who doesn’t just empathize with another person. He or she feels the other person’s hurt as if it was their own.

We are all like one organism. Even when a tiny toenail is hurting the entire body feels it.

So look around. Injustice, pain, hurt – people are suffering. If you see “no man” – if you see no one caring – why don’t you become the man, and do something about it?

At this very moment, as you read these lines, there may be someone nor very far from you that can use a kind word, an embrace, a nice gesture. With modern technology we can make a phone call, send an e-mail, text message, tweet – whatever it takes – and soothe an aching heart, bring joy to a bleeding spirit.

Sometimes all it takes to change a world is (not a village, but) “simat lev” – one person to care.


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Daniel Shinefield
14 years ago

Thank you for sharing your story and these inspiring words. You motivated me to have several conversations tonight.

14 years ago

Thanks….we all need to be reminded always and over and over again….about your message of caring…and acting on it.

14 years ago

Thank you for this deeply thoughtful and important message. All of us can act in a way that will help another who is hurting. Each of us turns away more often than not with excuses and rationalizations for why we need not be the one. Being a leader and recognizing that we are all one means becoming aware of our own inner dialogue and excuses and reliance on some one else to respond. It is in our response that we become better human beings, more connected and loving.

14 years ago

Fear of murder and wickedness is one factor that pushes people to both ignore it and to watch movies about it. But sometimes it really is just plain not caring, an expression of hidden wickedness. Our silent screams are not enough. We have to act with mind over heart.

Tuvia Bolton
14 years ago

You finished wth: Sometimes all it takes to change a world is (not a village, but) etc.
What do you mean by a village??

14 years ago

Why couldnt you have done this for the child in the restaurant Rabbi. Both the child and your neighbour are defenseless and both needed your help.

I like you and love your articles, but this is in contradiction to the previous article you wrote about the child in being slapped by the father.

Perhaps you were making up in this incident with the neighbour where you failed with the child.

I know you have compassion and I know you care.. I just wanted to point this out to you is all…

Thank you for all you do, Rabbi..

roz blumberg
14 years ago

how many would still be alive if this was followed during ww11?

Esther Mulroy
14 years ago

I have a friend whose e-mail always has the following quote..
Whoever saves a life. it is as though he saved the entire world. Talmud, Sahedrin 37a
Your story was inspiring. It is true we have to fight the pressure to mind our own business, not to get involved, leave it to someone else.
Also,it struck me that First Aid training also teaches first check the scene like you did, like Moses did. Then yell to someone else to call 911 and rush to help.
Having the instinct to help is something to be encouraged.

Esther Schapira
14 years ago

My reaction to the Rabbis story is that fear, hesitation to get involved, self-preservation, is a normal reaction in a dangerous situation. The important lesson is that we must react to help others even when there is a dangerous situation. We can acknowledge our fear and react anyway. That is what bravery is! In addition, a quick assessment of a dangerous situation is a wise reaction, so one can quickly determine the best course of action.

14 years ago

We may care, and have conflicts. Isnt that the nature of hesitation, pausing to consider the ramifications of actions ? But what to do when it apparently contradicts interests of self-preservation to reach out ? It is relatively easy to step in and do the right thing, oftentimes even more so when others do not act (especially us contrarians) but how often do we turn a blind eye the moment we ourselves have skin in the game. These quandaries are a little less easy to shrug off and push ahead from. This is what I struggle with – seemingly prosaic contradictions, that are unfortunately all around us today.

Johana Nadler
14 years ago

I agree but would like to understand the meaning of the incident that happened on the following day and I quote: “He – Moses – went out the next day, and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, ‘Why would you strike your fellow’? He replied: ‘Who appointed you as a prince and leader over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses was frightened.”

Thank you.

Johana Nadler

Johana Nadler
14 years ago

When no one cares, one is a bystander, and bystanders allowed and still allow genocide as witnessed by the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, and so many more that we dont even hear of until it is too late. I agree that we should all be concerned with our fellow human beings as we are indeed all brothers.

miriam rhodes
14 years ago

i love the part about your father interviewingthe rebbe. thanks for sharing it.

Reuven green
7 years ago

How Brave and Daring. If this story would have been told beseter… would things look?

Tar Rawls
6 months ago

I care! I’m 69 years old, i”ve watched the moral values of this nation crumble before my very eyes. I’ve watched as “turn the other cheek” mentality has allowed the “not so nice” to become wicked. I have watched “love, care for, respect, honor thy neighbor, one’s elders” give way to immediate gratification. Moral values now are “as one understands them”. Indiscriminate killings/shootings seem to be taken in stride, with little afterthought given to them by John Q public,,, except for the loved ones of the victims.
This is one reason i carry a weapon. I’ve never taken a human life, nor do i care to. I have though, hunted game from a very early age, up until mid life. I’ve watched the soul of a body depart. It’s not an easy thing. Those animals were not evil, but were placed here by Hashem for our benefit.
I will not stand by & watch an innocent person get harmed without stepping in. The time of my soul’s departure has been set by Hashem, & if that occurs during that encounter, so be it. I’ve lived a good life, & coming to the aide of another may be just the final correction my soul has been seeking.

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