A story is told in the Talmud (Gitten 57a) that three hundred thousand soldiers came and killed the residents in one side of the country for three days, and during all this time the residents on the other side of the country were partying, and “these people did not know about these people.” What impressed me about this was the total cut-off in terms of empathy.
There’s no chance for empathy when people don’t even know what’s happening. When people know and see what’s happening and feel for the other people they can take away a little bit of their feeling of alone-ness. They didn’t even know what was going on. They were oblivious.
Today we live in a different world. Or do we?
We see what’s happening in a different segment of the population but we see it only as the media portrays it. We also see things but quickly get back to our business. We don’t feel that it actually has anything to do with us.
I always think of this story in the Talmud when disaster strikes one segment of the population or one part of the world and not another.
In the aftermath of the blazing inferno in the Carmel mountains two entire communities in Israel – Beit Oren and Nir Etzion – have just been wiped out. Its citizens are alive, thank God but they have lost all of their belongings in an instant. I cannot even fathom what they must be going through right now.
We can look at these pictures on the news and say: “It’s far away from me. I will continue to live my life and have a good time.” I think back to several years ago when people in Gush Katif were driven out of their homes by a government convinced that this destruction would lead to peace. No, their communities were not burnt down. Tractors came and razed them to the ground. Many lost their livelihood that came from growing crops on that soil after having built it up for three generations.
Some looked at the pictures then too and said: “It’s far away from me. I will continue to live my life and have a good time.”
The busload of people on their way to evacuate the prison did not say: “It’s far away from me” and they perished in the flames. One young volunteer saw his friend El’ad, a sixteen year old volunteer firefighter being burnt alive.
We don’t live in a small world anymore. Today the media sends the message of what is happening far and wide in a short amount of time – tsunamis, hurricanes, terror, what-not. People understand today that we were all created by one God. Nothing is far away.
The Jewish people have an additional responsibility, the responsibility of belonging to one family. Nir Etzion was founded by survivors of the Arab raid on Kfar Etzion in 1948. This is yet another page of their history. Beit Oren was founded by the Socialist youth from Russia and Poland. Perhaps there is a message here that a religious and secular collective settlement was destroyed.
And these people knew about these people.