For the week ending 8 January 2005 / 27 Tevet 5765

Tsunami and Tsusamin

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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While the entire world grieves over the disaster caused by the tsunami in South Asia there are some aspects of this tragedy which deserve more attention than just counting how many are dead or missing.

First and foremost there is the humbling realization of the paradoxical fragility of man who is capable of reaching the moon but cannot protect himself against an earthquake and tidal wave.

One of the blessings an observant Jew makes each morning is to praise the Creator Who spreads out the earth upon the waters. Because we take for granted the security which G-d has provided us against the threat of the raging seas, it is necessary for a Jew to remind himself upon awakening that such security is a gift of G-d. It should not be necessary for a tsunami to serve as such a reminder.

As regards the Jews who were in the disaster area, the reaction of the government, the media and the general public in Israel to their plight served as a reminder of the tsusamin (Yiddish for together) nature of the Jewish People. The volunteers who quickly flew to help locate missing Israelis and to bring back the bodies of those who did not survive in order to provide them with a Jewish burial were only a part of the picture. Throughout Israel people had their ears glued to their radios, hoping and praying for news of another Jew removed from the list of the missing.

It was a reminder of a point made almost a century ago by the great Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the rav of Lublin and founder of both Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin and the Daf Hayomi program. The anti-Semitic Russians in the last years of the Czarist regime accused a Jew by the name of Mendel Beilis of murdering a gentile child in order to use his blood for ritual purposes. In its attempt to base this blood libel on an allegedJewish disregard for non-Jews as humans deserving of life, the prosecution cited a section of the Talmud which states that You (Jews) are called Adam (Man) but the other nations are not called Adam. The response of Rabbi Shapiro which was read to judge and jury by the defense attorney, shed an entirely different light on this statement.

In lashon hakodesh - the Hebrew language - everything has a singular and plural form. The exception is the word Adam. When all people feel a togetherness as if they were a single man, they deserve to be called by the singular-plural term Adam.

If a non-Jew were on trial for murder rather than Mendel Beilis, went on Rabbi Shapiros brief, who would be concerned with his fate? At the most his defenders would be his family and a few close friends. But when a Jew like Beilis is on trial every Jew, everywhere, is deeply concerned. Jews of all economic classes have contributed funds to hire top defense lawyers and every effort has been made to see that justice is done. It is this sense of responsibility, of oneness, which makes Jews unique as Adam and in no way reflects on their attitude towards the sanctity of life of all mankind.

In this very spirit of regard for all mankind - a broadening of the tsusamin persective - we take note of the fact that the amount of food and medical supplies sent to Southeast Asia by the Israeli government was far larger than what was sent by larger and richer nations in Europe.

Tsusamin - solidarity and brotherhood - should not need a tsunami to awaken it in the hearts of all Jews and all mankind.

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