A Reader's Questions
I received an e-mail the other day from a reader who asked some very tough questions. I don't want to reveal anything about his identity, because I don't know if he would be comfortable with that, so I will just summarize briefly his points. First he asked why it is that Orthodox Jews can have so many chesed organizations and take such good care of other frum Jews while ignoring the atrocities going on in the outside worlds, sometimes even giving the impression that the horrors are not that important because happen mainly to non-Jews. My response to that was as follows: I hear your frustration. It is hard to understand how people can be so concerned about some things and not others. For your first question, about how people can have so many chesed organizations for their own community, but not care about what is going on in places like Africa - I think it is normal for people to take care of those closest to them. It's horrible what is happening in far off countries, it bothers me so much that I can't even read many of the accounts because I just can't stomach it. But when it comes to helping, most people will feel better about doing something where they can see the impact of their help. I think few people are on the level of really doing kindnesses complelety anonymously - where they have no idea how their help actually affects the person they are trying to help. And it's easier to understand the plight of someone who is more familiar to yourself, someone whose struggles you can relate to, whose family resembles your own, who you can see suffering by looking out your window, rather than having to imagine what is going on on the other side of the world. It's not necessarily right, and I am happy to say that I know quite a few people who have joined the Peace Corps in order to help others, but I do think it's human nature. I want to address the comment you referred to in which someone said, "BH, it's only goyim." That reaction is, unfortunately, the result of education and environment in which many frum Jews are taught that non-Jews are less important than Jews. It frustrates me to no end, but in many ways, I don't blame the people that I hear such comments from; I blame those around them, and back for many generations, who have enforced it. I think it is true that there is some kind of bond between Jews, and that we should look out for other Jews (all other Jews, frum and non-frum), but I don't think that means it's okay to brush aside atrocities that happen to non-Jews. I believe that we could care about all humans, each of whom have the B'Tzelem Elokim within them. But I was raised much differently from most in chareidi communities. The second question he asked was why it seems that there can be so many chesed organizations while people still treat others without sensitivity and kindness, often really hurting the feelings of those around them without seeming to care of give a good reason for it. He related a specific event in his life that pained him almost to tears, and which the person he was interacting with seemed to brush aside without any problem. My response to that part of the e-mail was: As for your second frustration, I don't have any answer for you on that one. The way you are being treated is not right, and it's not Torah. One of the frustrations I have with the kollel system is that it seems that there are many people who learn Torah all day long but fail to internalize so many important components of it, such as treating others with compassion and sensitivity. Again, it's a human flaw - it's not always easy to act with compassion. But as Torah Jews, we are commanded to do so, and I often feel that because it is harder than things such as kashrut and Shabbos, because it is much less straightforward, it is swept aside. I think that the essence of Torah is in treating others well, and I make an effort to do so. I know many other frum Jews who make such an effort as well, but there are many who don't. And there is no excuse for it. Again though, that is the failing of particular people, it is not Torah. Like I said, very tough questions, that I have little answer for. How would you have responded?