Other or Brother?

It is not enough simply to repeat that we are all created in the Divine image.  While true, and a magnificent affirmation, the statement is passive. The words do not demand.

Clearly, we are currently enveloped in two emergencies that go to the very heart of who we are.

And if there is one commonality between them it is this: they both take us back to the very first question ever asked by a human being.

What was that question?

The first question ever asked by a human being comes immediately after the first murder. Humans have only just appeared on the earth. Only one tiny family exists. We have achieved nothing. Yet, immediately after arriving on the scene, the first born human being commits murder.

And that leads to the first question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

It is a question destined to resound through history all the way down to our present day.

It is a question that will be at the core of much of the sibling strife through Genesis, and that will preoccupy the Torah.

Who is really your brother or sister?

And what does it mean to be a “keeper”? The Hebrew word is actually “shomer.” A better translation is “guard” or “preserver.”

God never directly replies to this question. But the Torah’s position is unmistakable. In a world that answered the question in the negative, the Torah’s revolution was to insist that the response must be “yes.”

For the last few months, in hospitals around the world, we have been awed by healthcare personnel who have risked everything to save the lives of total strangers – individuals of every race, age, creed, and background.

Within a worthy nation, they have silently reminded us, we are all brothers and sisters, and so we have a positive duty to be “preservers.”

For too long, however, and in too many places, those who divide by race have insisted that people of a different color are “other.” Not my group. Not my responsibility.

It is past time to insist on clarity. In which category are our fellow Americans and our fellow Israelis who are of a different skin color?

Other or brother?

Judaism has an answer to this question: Brother. Sister.

And from that answer flows a responsibility: to walk in the world with a lens that sees all “others” as “brothers”…and to constantly remind ourselves that we have an affirmative duty to all those within our nation who pose no threat to our lives – a duty that instructs that their lives should be protected as our brothers and sisters.

There is yet much work to be done.

Rabbi Danny Schiff

If you have thoughts or reactions in connection with this piece, I would be pleased to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below or continue the conversation by contacting me directly at [email protected].

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