The people of this country are blessed. The unprecedented speed of development and deployment of the vaccine for COVID-19 has brought us to a place where with God’s continued help and blessing we can hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
But the worst seems to lie squarely ahead of India, and we must do something about it.
We have all seen the images and figures depicting the havoc the pandemic is currently wreaking in India. As Jews, we cannot just watch this disaster unfold.
Abraham, the biological father of the Jewish people and the spiritual father of much of the world, established the absolute connection between religious devotion and social responsibility. He demonstrated care for his family, for the individual weary travelers that he welcomed into his tent and for the city of Sodom whose wholesale destruction he could not just passively observe.
This legacy of charity and responsibility is fundamental to the character of Jewish life. Families, communities and societies thrive on the prioritization of care and responsibility between members of the group. There is a valued intimacy and a critical bond of trust that results from our support systems, how we take care of those closest to us and put family first, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
But we must not stop there.
History has given us many examples of situations where a complete family, community or society experienced devastating events that shook the entire traditional support system. It is specifically at those times that the broader world must step forward to act with care and concern to save those who have been rendered helpless, but the world does not always come through. Others have stood silent in the face of evil and passive in the presence of tragedy far too many times. The Jewish people are keenly and painfully aware of this. And we have been reminded of it again during the past weeks of missile strikes in Israel and anti-Semitic attacks in America and around the world.
Silence is simply not an option.
We do not accept that this must be the reality of the world we live in. We continue to dream and to strive for a world where the rich amongst nations care for the poor and the healthy tend to the sick, where boundaries create a framework for mutual kindness rather than a barrier to extending our care to others beyond that framework, where charity begins at home but does not end there. That is what we seek within our world and the goal towards which each of us must work.
Rambam—following on the words of the Mishna—wrote of the obligation of a Jew to support the needy of other nations so as to pursue the path of peace, darkei shalom. He clearly viewed this as more than a diplomatic stroke but rather as an extension of the generosity that God Himself extends to all His creatures. Moshe, the ultimate faithful shepherd and lawgiver of the Jewish people, began his journey of leadership by standing up to evil wherever he encountered it, no less when the victims were the children of the idolatrous priest of Midyan than was it was a fellow Jew being victimized by an oppressive Egyptian.
This is a critical part of our legacy. Yes, our plates are filled with our efforts to sustain a Jewish community grappling with epic stresses. We are still assessing the harm inflicted in the latest round of missiles that rained down on millions of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Our local Jewish communities need major investment in their material well-being as well as in their Torah-education systems and infrastructure. These are issues that require time, energy and commitment, and they must never be neglected if we are to be serious about the well-being of the state of Israel, our own community, Jewish continuity and the central value of Torah education.
But we must retain the perspective that all those systems of caring and teaching are there for one purpose, and that is to develop students and community members blessed not only with knowledge of text but with strength and refinement of character, the kind of people who—like our father Avraham—exemplify and serve as a conduit for God’s goodness to all.
India is in a terrible crisis, facing a vicious double mutation of the virus. Our community—breathing somewhat easier—is positioned to help. We must not stand by. A modest gift from each of us will not change our lives but it will save the lives of others. And it will be a gift that will make our world more of a community that cares for each other in a way that benefits and uplifts us all.
Please contribute at https://www.ou.org/crisis-in-india/.
By Rabbi Moshe Hauer/
Executive VP, Orthodox Union