In his book The Best Defense Alan Dershowitz reminisces about dining in the old New York Kosher restaurant Shmulka Bernstein’s back in the early 1970s.
He recalls how Rabbi Meir Kahane used to enter the restaurant and “harangue” him and the other diners with lectures about the plight of Jews in the former Soviet Union.
“They’re being annihilated, spiritually and physically. And what are you fancy liberal Jews doing about it? Nothing, that’s what! You’re no different from the American Jews who stood by silently while six million of your brothers and sisters were being gassed by the Nazis.”
Deshowitz reflects on how these lectures affected him and inspired him to act.
I thought of this as I was reading a Rashi from this week’s parshah.
The Torah says (Bereishit 41:50) that Yosef had two children BEFORE the famine hit Egypt. Rashi comments that from here we see that it is forbidden for a person to have marital relations during the years of famine.
But Yosef was in Egypt. In Egypt, even though the weather conditions may have been that of a famine, there was food and Yosef was not going hungry.
Yosef was sensitive to suffering in the world. Even if the famine did not affect him in Egypt, since he understood that his brothers in Israel were suffering he conducted himself as if he were suffering through the famine as well.
It has gotten to the point that attacks in Israel have become so frequent that sometimes they barely make the news. It is so easy to forget the suffering that our brothers and sisters in Israel are going through right now. It is more important than ever to constantly keep them in our minds and think of ways that we can constantly remind ourselves of their plight.
Rabbi Kahane successfully got Allan Dershowitz to internalize the struggle of Soviet Jews. he could not enjoy his lunch while Jews were suffering, and it inspired Dershowitz to take action. He could no longer sit back and say, “what can I do?” The problem ceased to be someone else’s problem, and it became his problem so he was almost forced to look for ways that he could help.
We must internalize Israel’s suffering, make it our own, and figure out ways that we can do something to help them.