Things worth fight­ing for

Each and ev­ery one of us can make a dif­fer­ence

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - RABBI BERNARD BASKIN

The well pub­li­cized event was tragic and dis­heart­en­ing. A young, blind, black man was drown­ing. In fear and des­per­a­tion he cried out for help. Five teenaged boys, 14 to16, laughed and taunted the dy­ing man. Later, they recorded the event on video which they posted on­line.

How can we shut our ears to the cry of the af­flicted, the poor, the sick, and the dis­em­pow­ered? Surely there is a covenant of human sen­si­bil­ity. John Donne said it mem­o­rably: “No man is an is­land en­tire of it­self. Any man’s death di­min­ishes me, be­cause I am in­volved in mankind; and there­fore never sends to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.”

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The worst sin to­ward our fel­low crea­tures is not to hate them, but to be in­dif­fer­ent to them: that’s the essence of in­hu­man­ity.”

It is fright­en­ing that some pur­blind lead­ers of the free world are not con­cerned with those fac­ing dis­as­ter and whole­sale death in so many coun­tries. It would be tragic if the un­con­cerned teenagers were fol­low­ing, whether they know it or not, the un­for­tu­nate acts and dic­tates of those would-be guides to our fu­ture.

It takes courage to care, to fling open our hearts and to re­act with sym­pa­thy or com­pas­sion or in­dig­na­tion or en­thu­si­asm when it is eas­ier — and some­times safer — not to get in­volved.

There is an anony­mous para­ble: Two men were seated in the lobby of a ho­tel. One was a gen­tle­man from New York and the other an Apache In­dian. The New Yorker stared at the ‘In­dian’ and then could no longer re­strain his cu­rios­ity. “Are you re­ally a full blooded In­dian?” he asked.

Well, no, replied the Apache thought­fully, “I’m short one pint of blood, which I gave to save a white man’s life.” A real per­son is one who is short pints of blood which he gave for the well-be­ing of oth­ers.

What­ever hap­pened to the once widely held be­lief that we are all cre­ated in God’s im­age? This is the as­ser­tion that ev­ery­one is in some man­ner valu­able, unique and sin­gu­lar. Just con­sider, there is no other in­di­vid­ual on earth just like you or your spouse or your chil­dren. No one has your fin­ger­prints or DNA. No one looks ex­actly like you.

And we can carry this idea one step fur­ther and sug­gest that the spir­i­tual in­spi­ra­tion within each of us is the only real ba­sis for broth­er­hood and sis­ter­hood. Why should I love my neigh­bour? It may be that I dis­like him in­tensely. In­deed, I have noth­ing in com­mon with him. This may be es­pe­cially true when he or she speaks a dif­fer­ent lan­guage, prac­tises ‘strange’ cus­toms and habits, or is of a dif­fer­ent colour. All of this may be true — but how can I re­fute the as­ser­tion that we share and par­take of God’s in­erad­i­ca­ble spirit?

We know in our bones, in the depths of our be­ing, that we are not av­er­age. Each one of us knows that we are some­how spe­cial, some­how a soli­tary in­di­vid­ual with our own sad se­crets, our own bun­dle of hopes and dreams, our own fears and fan­tasies.

The Amer­i­can an­thro­pol­o­gist Lorne Eise­ley summed up his at­ti­tude to life with this story: “An el­derly man was walk­ing on the beach at dawn when he no­ticed a young per­son pick­ing up starfish stranded by the re­treat­ing tide and throw­ing them back into the sea, one by one. He ap­proached him and asked why he was do­ing this. The young man replied that the starfish would die if left ex­posed to the morn­ing sun. His ques­tioner replied, “But the beach goes on for miles and there are thou­sands of starfish. You can’t save them all. How can your ef­fort make a dif­fer­ence?” The young man looked at the starfish and then threw it safely into the ocean. “To this one,” he said, “it makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Fi­nally, we must not turn our backs or shut our ears when a fel­low des­per­ate human be­ing seeks our phys­i­cal or spir­i­tual help. Our con­cern must be to con­vince our young peo­ple that in­jus­tice and in­hu­man­ity af­fects them and their lives.

They must be taught that there are things to be con­cerned with and to fight for; truth, good­ness, free­dom, jus­tice, peace — and above all human dig­nity.

Rabbi Bernard Baskin is Rabbi Emer­i­tus of Tem­ple An­she Sholom in Hamil­ton and an oc­ca­sional con­trib­u­tor to these pages.

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