Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:
The story: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Beshalach, Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians have just suffered through 10 plagues starting with their rivers and other water sources turning to blood, and ending with the death of firstborn children. And yet, instead of allowing the Israelites to leave in peace, Pharoah’s heart hardens (yet again), and he and his army chase them towards the Red Sea. (Luckily, that plan didn’t work out so well.)
The takeaway: According to this week’s AJWS parsha interpreter, Sigal Samuel, “At first glance, Pharaoh’s refusal to acknowledge his people’s suffering may seem baffling to us… In truth, however, the Egyptian ruler’s behavior reflects an important fact about human psychology: namely, that constant exposure to a series of tragedies…can cause us to close our hearts toward the suffering of others.” In other words, in our daily lives we are constantly barraged with images of other people living through war, famine, and other types of pain. Unlike Pharaoh, we may feel general compassion for these people. And yet, it is all to easy to “harden our hearts” and push away bad news out of what feels like an act of preserving our own sanity.
The “to-do”: Of course, while shutting out sad news makes us feel better for a time, it does not help the situation, or take away our responsibilities to others. So how do we avoid becoming numb to tragedy? One way is to engage with service on a deeper level. Check out the work, for example, of WITNESS, an organization that uses video and other technology to share people’s stories in fresh and compelling ways. (Read more about WITNESS on Repair the World here.) Or, engage in service from the human-to-human level, which allows one to build deeper, lasting relationships with people in need. Not sure where to start? Here are a couple of organizations we love.
Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.