“Cover your bookcases with rugs and linens of fine quality; preserve them from dampness and mice and injury. For it is your books that are your true treasure.”
-Ibn Tibbon – 12th Century Spanish Jewish Rabbi
The Torah relates that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, became fearful that the Israelites would join with any enemy people and bring down his reign. So does Moses repeatedly go before Pharaoh to demand that he let the Israelites go free.
Pharaoh refuses to free the people. And so a series of horrible plagues are brought upon Egypt to demonstrate God’s desire that the Israelites go free, and also to demonstrate to Pharaoh that there is One who is more powerful than he.
Among the plagues that were brought upon Egypt was that of darkness. The Torah describes the darkness as being so thick that the people “saw not one another.” But according to one traditional interpretation, it was a special kind of darkness. It was not a darkness that affected the eyes. Rather, it was a darkness that affected the heart. Physically, the people were able to see. But they lost he capacity to “see” each other and to care about one another.
It was George Bernard Shaw who put forth a wise and timeless reminder that “the worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them; but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of inhumanity.”
The call of Judaism: That we live with empathy for those who endure hurt and pain. That quality, I believe, is at the heart of being a Jew. Not the rituals or the observances: Rather, for us there is no holiness greater than feeling for another person, and reaching out to give comfort and strength.
As we consider the world in which we are living, we realize that there is so much “moral darkness” that squelches in many the capacity to feel for others; be they immigrants or people who are perceived as being “different” or “other.”
It has been rightfully observed that Judaism is a protest against such moral numbness. So may we never lose our capacity to see with both our eyes and our hearts.
Rabbi David Greenberg