Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Haiti Earthquake and Pirkei Avot

Estimates of those killed and injured from the devastating earthquake in Haiti span anywhere from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Still, the full extent of the damage will not be known for days to come. Aside from the obvious empathy we should have for the victims of the disaster, there is an excerpt from Hillel in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14) that provides a wise approach on how to treat tragedies that befall others:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?"

The implication is for individual character, but I think it can also extend to group character:

If we don't help fellow Jews, who else is going to help them?
But if we only help fellow Jews, what kind of people are we?
And if not at this time of need, when?

There are both Jews and non-Jews around the world in need of all kinds of help. Therefore, we have to start at the most basic level and help those closest to us first, such as family and community. However, all human beings descend from the same man, Adam, and are created b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of God. As a result, it's quite noble to care for others - regardless of religion - if we are in the position to do so. It's great to see that Israel and various Jewish groups have quickly sent rescue teams, medical staff and supplies to help in the relief effort. If you would like to contribute to one of the organizations doing relief work in Haiti, click here.

This brings to mind a different earthquake several years back - in Iran - when Israel also offered help, but was immediately denied by Iran's tyrannical government. Imagine the caliber of people it takes to help victims of a country whose leaders are focused on obliterating them! This is but one example of the chasm between Jews and our enemies. While there are people who would love to destroy us, the feeling is not mutual. We will defend ourselves with brute force when necessary, but we remain "rachmanim bayshanim v'gomlei chasadim" - a people defined by compassion, modesty and acts of kindness.


  1. You are a light to the Jewish people...and to me. It is so refreshing to hear (read)with my heart what you are saying..keep your words coming..
    You are a Mitzvah!
    In Hawaii

  2. Yehudit, thank you very much for the kind words. I hope that what I'm writing about resonates with fellow Jews. But more importantly, I hope that it leads to improved behavior.