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08/15/2023 06:30:52 PM

Aug15

And yet, think of what we have done...

There's a story about Stephen S. Wise, the great social activist of last century, when he once visited China some years before the Second World War.  The only means of transportation in that country then was by rickshaw, and the rickshaws were pulled by old, weak, frail people, who would cough constantly as they dragged their burden.  At first, Rabbi Wise was horrified.  He felt uncomfortable that his transportation should be at the cost of so much suffering by these rickshaw pullers.  He found himself lying awake at night in the hotel, hearing their rasping coughs.  He said this to his hosts, and they reassured him.  They said to him: "Don't worry.  In two more weeks, you will get used to it.  In a month you won't even hear it."  And so it was.

And that, Rabbi Wise said afterwards, was the most embarrassing day of his life.  Likewise, we should be embarrassed about how easily we forget those suffering in sweatshops to make our shoes and clothing.  We should not ignore the hungry children who look more dead than alive.  We should not rest content when so many people need basic human resources.  We cannot solve all their problems, but neither should we forget that they exist.  And nor shall we minimize the challenges we face.

The late Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote a story, "Shabbat in Gehenna" (in Hell), in which the Jews sit around and do the only logical thing a Jew should do in Hell: form a committee to make even Hell a little better.  In other words, it's in our nature to make things better.  How else do we explain the incredible impact Jews have had on the culture and scientific discoveries of our world?  When we consider how few we are in number, our achievements are truly miraculous.  It's estimated that there are about 14 million Jews in the world.  It's also true that 14 million is the statistical error in the Chinese census.  In other words, 14 million is a pittance.  And yet think of what we have done.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784