Please don’t lose heart in these cruel times. (I’m often talking to myself when I write these Friday notes). We shan’t and can’t lose heart.
These are harsh weeks. We constantly hear bad news: many among us worry about beloved family and friends caught up in this brutal war on Ukraine; all of us worry about those who worry. But we can’t and shan’t lose heart, because we’re together on the side of life.
In Jerusalem, it’s Purim today. The streets are full of children, and grown-ups, in fancy dress. Millions are busy practising the commandments of the festival, mishloach manot, bringing gifts of food to friends and neighbours, and mattanot la’evyonim, giving where there’s need. These simple actions convey a simple message: I care about you.
The Purim story is nasty and mean. It’s all there beneath the purple trappings of rich, indulgent society: trafficking, exploitation, manipulation, racism and attempted genocide. But hate is not the message its heroes sought to promulgate. ‘Remember!’ they taught, – but do so in order to seek peace and goodness. Start by showing in small, daily kindness that the people around you matter to you.
I often think about the Biblical meaning of the Hebrew verb yode’a, which translates as ‘know’. Except that it expresses something more than neutral cognition: what yode’a really means is ‘know and care.’
Lo yadati says Cain after killing his brother: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ – I don’t know and I couldn’t care less. Lo yadati says Pharaoh to Moses, ‘I don’t know God’ and therefore I don’t care about you or your ridiculous demand for freedom.
When people attain power who don’t care about the lives of others and who consider themselves accountable to no one, neither to God nor humanity, they inflict immeasurable hurt.
We fight back by caring. The Torah tells us that God ‘knows the pain’ of the Children of Israel in their slavery. We each contain a fraction of that God who knows. That infinitesimal portion may be invisible, dissolved somewhere within us, but it’s what gives us our conscience, heart and spirit. It’s what makes us love. It’s what makes us horrified when millions of people are bullied and bombed out of their homes and forced to become refugees. It’s what makes us say, ‘What can I do to help?’
There’s something essential which unites people who care. We may live in separate countries and have no common language. We may be concerned, at least ostensibly, about different matters: for children, or people rich in years, or animals, or nature. But we are all touched by the same spirit and impelled by the same imperative: life matters; life must be cherished; I have to do something for life.
I recently heard Hugh Warwick speak about hedgehogs. I love them, he said, so I fight for them. He was voicing a truth which embraces far more than those prickling animals, endearing as they are: we fight for what we love.
Loving life teaches us to love the lives of others, and to fight for them, and for life itself, in any way we can. Even if what we do feels insignificant, trivial, not much more than nothing, we should never say ‘It makes no difference.’ The issue is not ‘it’s so little that I do,’ but ‘What’s the little that I can do?’
I’m inspired and humbled by people who really care. It’s not just what they do; it’s the spirit they impart, the strength and solidarity they convey – that we’re together on the side of life.