Friday, December 08, 2006

Thicker Than Water?

This week’s Table Talk is dedicated by Todd and Calla Samuels to the loving memory of Todd’s father Avraham ben Leib, whose 19th Yarzeit is observed this week. Avraham ben Leib was a remarkable person who never got angry or upset, with one exception: when his family’s safety was threatened.


OK, imagine you suddenly find yourself in downtown Tehran.

You hear a clamor and turn a corner, and happen upon a small anti-Israel rally marching towards you, a few hundred thousand people shouting, “God is great! Death to the Jews!”

You’re thinking, “Hmm...maybe I’d better try a different street.”

You turn around and pick up the pace. Faster and faster. But the din is getting louder and louder. There’s an alley – a short cut!

Suddenly you’re in the alley but it’s nighttime and you find yourself surrounded by a crowd of menacing youth wearing loose-fitting clothing and wielding knives....One of them is reaching out to grab you....

How do you feel?

Now...just as the menacing teenager reaches out to grab your arm, you notice that he and his friends are all wearing yarmulkes! The leader is looking into your eyes and saying to his friends, “It’s OK guys, its one of our own.”

Now how do you feel?

+ + +

What is it about family? Why do we do things for family members that we wouldn’t do for someone else? Why can people wipe their own kid’s nose with a smile but find someone else’s kid’s nose repulsive?

Human nature? Genetic survival technique?

Jewishly-speaking, this truism of human nature applies to adults in an interesting way.

There is a mitzvah of returning a lost object to its owner: You find a wallet or watch or anything of value that has identifiable marks on it (as opposed to, for instance, finding lost money), you have to return it to its owner.

However, ask the rabbis (try asking this at your table): granted that if someone’s property inadvertently comes into your possession, you have to return it. But what if you see someone’s wallet lying across the street: are you ethically required to go out of your way to pick it up and find the owner? What if you’re in a hurry?

The Jewish answer is: in general you’re not required to go out of your way to retrieve a stranger’s wallet in order to return it. But if it belongs to a fellow tribesman, you are indeed required to.

Think about it: If it were your mother’s wallet, would you hesitate to go out of your way? (some people better think before they answer that!)

But we don’t always treat non-family members with that kind of effort. In fact, our tendency is not to treat people outside our family with the same concern, and the Torah is telling us that we need to do so, even if the other person is a total stranger.

Shabbat Shalom.

5 comments:

Renegade Kosher said...

Welcome to the blogsphere, Rabbi! And thanks for the comment on my blog! I wish you the best of luck with your blog, and can help you get onto Aggregator sites, if you wish. Feel free to e-mail me at steven-at-renegadekosher-dot-com if you have any questions!

Renegade Kosher said...

Doh, and here I see you've been blogging for a while. Thought it was a new blog at first! Boy, is my face red! Ah, well. Intentions are still good at heart... Good Shabbat & Happy Hanukkah!

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