Let Us Not Turn Away

As I write this, in San Diego, a funeral is taking place for Lori Gilbert Kaye OBM, who was murdered by a 19-year-old at a Chabad during Passover services. You know of this event, and others like it. When such things happen, we might experience many emotions: sadness, fear, shock, anger, numbness. But we have one job before anything else. We must feel the immediacy of the event, we must overcome its seeming distance, we must know that it is our own family that has been affected.

 It is natural to protect ourselves from the pain of the world through abstraction. It is easy to put up layers of armor against the assault on our sense of safety, and our moral sensibility, through distance. But Torah calls us to oppose that distancing. It calls us instead to closeness.

The Hebrew word arevut has two meanings. The first is mutual responsibility. “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh,”says the Talmud, “All of Israel are guarantors for one another.” In a legal context, an arev is an underwriter for someone else’s loan, one who will assume the obligation to repay should the lender default. An arev is one who says “your obligation is mine, if you can’t fulfill your obligation, I will do it for you.”

The arev lives with a deep sense of responsibility, mutuality, interconnectedness. She is willing to give up her security, her complacency, for another person. You might think that to be an arev is therefore a burden.

But there is a second meaning as well. Arevut also means “sweetness.” Counterintuitively, there is nothing sweeter than experiencing the bonds of mutual responsibility that hold us together. When we do so, our strength grows, our capacity expands, and we find that we are larger than we ever thought possible. We are not alone.

In the morning blessing on the Torah, we say the words “vhaarev na” – may the Torah that I learn, may my Jewish life and practice, contribute to the well-being of all of us. The truth is, we are all one, bound together by often invisible bonds of giving and receiving, inspiration and impact, care and concern. What happens to any of us involves each of us. When we own this and make it intentional, our personal gains become blessings for the entire community.

This is the surprise: when we are faced with the world’s pain and we do not turn away, the boundaries that limit us begin to fade. The road to freedom goes through compassion. Our heartbreak reveals hidden connections.

The Talmud states that “one who shares in the mourning of the community will ultimately share in its joy as well.” As we share the pain of Poway and other Jewish communities across the globe, may we merit to share moments of joy together soon. In the meantime, let us not turn away.

Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger is the author of Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom, which won the National Jewish Book Award. A teacher and artist, he is currently on a national book tour. Visit him at www.arielburger.com

Image credit: “Reunion” by Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger