Look for the Helpers

by Rabbi Nancy Tunick | May 17, 2016

Fred Rogers, famous for Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers.’ You will always find people who are helping.” When two bombs exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon three years ago this week based on the Jewish calendar, many people ran away in panic, but there were also people running towards the dust and chaos to help. Some were first responders, police, first aid workers and rescue workers, but many were civilians who were just trying to help. And in the hours that followed, other neighbors joined the helpers. A Boston restaurant tweeted that people involved in the tragedy could come in, charge their phones and eat for free or for whatever they could pay. The restaurant owner’s 8 year-old daughter wrote notes on the to-go bags saying “Everything is going to be alright.” And the restaurant’s employees who were not working that day came in to work to help. A nearby dog kennel facebooked that anyone who needed to leave their dog overnight to help with others who were in need could leave them at her kennel for free. President Obama called these acts of kindness. This week’s Parshah, Kedoshim, which means holiness, calls it loving your neighbor as yourself or “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha.”
In this part of Leviticus, Hashem tells Moses to tell the people that “You shall be Holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” We are all holy. And when we commit acts of kindness, we are expressing our holiness. In English there is a meaningful association between the word holiness and the word whole, meaning entire or complete. When we demonstrate our own holiness, we feel whole or complete, ironically as we individually contribute to an even greater whole. This week’s Parshah also includes the halachic version of The Golden Rule, Love your neighbor as yourself, which was famously featured in the account of a man who approached Rabbi Hillel and asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel agreed. While the man was on one foot, Hillel said “That which you hate, don’t do to others, the rest is commentary. Now go learn it.” In other words, love your neighbor as yourself. Why is loving your neighbor as yourself so central to Judaism and to nearly every other world religion? Spiritual Judaism says we are all connected to each other and to God, literally, so if we are all one then loving our neighbor is the same as loving ourselves and the same as loving God. The Talmud says, when we save one soul, we have saved the world entire, because each person is a part of the whole. There is a picture in an atrium at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis that illustrates for me this concept. It is a photograph of hospital founder Danny Thomas and two St. Jude patients, but what makes this photograph so meaningful is that it is composed of thousands of tiny photographs of other patients as if it were a photographic pointillism painting by Serat. The one is made up of tiny, complete ones. If the universe was an ocean, we would all be waves, each with our own force, height and depth but clearly part of the same body of water. And if we look at each other in that way, how can we not celebrate other people’s successes and how can we not help others when they are in need?
The Boston Marathon is an appropriate symbol for this concept. In no other sport are so many spectators gathered together to cheer everyone towards success. In football, in baseball, in hockey, in basketball, the spectators have their own sides and are usually only cheering for their team. At a marathon, the spectators are there cheering everyone on. If you have your name on your shirt, people you don’t know along the route are chanting “You can do it Nancy” and if your name is not on your shirt, they will cheer you on by the color of your shirt. “Keep going pink shirt! You can do it!” An act of evil does not stop the love, it only reminds and reinforces for us that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.
In Israel this week, they followed up the commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, with Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. There is a lot to celebrate in Israel, a place where Jews are often times forced to fight for their identities and their homes, after losing not only their homes, families and lives, but in some cases their spirits. If you had been in Tel Aviv two months ago when a terrorist attacked civilians on a beach in Tel Aviv, killing one American tourist and injuring 12 other innocent people, and if you had looked for the helpers, you would have seen Yishay Montgomery. Yishay is a young Israeli musician who happened to be playing guitar near the beach when he heard screaming. He ran over and when he saw what was happening, he began to yell “terrorist.” The terrorist then ran from the scene and Yishay chased him, still holding his guitar. When he caught up with the attacker, he hit him over the head with the guitar. Yishay said the terrorist was so shocked, he did not know what to do. As Yishay started to chase the assailant, other people followed and joined in the chase to subdue him. Witnesses said that he may have saved lives as people at the scene did not realize what was happening, and that he may have continued with the attack if not for being chased. Incidentally, Yishay wrecked his guitar by using it as a weapon, but a local music store has given him a new one and he continues to receive new instruments from grateful citizens from around the world. He has been dubbed the guitar hero! But we are all heroes. When we not only risk ourselves to save someone else, but also when we offer food, comfort, words of inspiration or refuge for ourselves and our loved ones, we are heroes and we are whole. Anachnu kedoshim, we are holy.
So as we face our week, let’s look at each other knowing that we are connected. Tonight, after our Shabbat service, when we touch the Challah or touch someone who is touching the Challah, or touch someone who is touching someone who is touching the Challah and we all get connected, we will be acting out what we feel deep inside to be true. We are connected and what we do for each other, we do for ourselves and for God, and what we do to each other, we do to ourselves and to God. So this week, by remembering we are one, each action can take on holiness. Each kind word, each kind act, is light that fights the darkness. And each act of love is an act of God. My 11 year-old daughter, Sarah, is wise. She says “There can never be too much love.” And if we remember that, everything is going to be alright.

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