Off the Pulpit

Redeeming One Another?

When I was a teenager, two strangers came to our home. They were Russian, and I learned that they visited to thank my parents, who had helped them escape from the Soviet Union. I have since learned many stories of Jews who helped other Jews, risked their own safety, smuggled goods in and people out, in an attempt to help.
Such benevolence is not new. In the 15th century, some 250 Portugese Jews captured at African seaports were sold as slaves throughout the kingdom of Alfonso V. The Jews of Lisbon formed a committee and through the beneficence of philanthropist Yehiel of Pisa, hired the famous scholar and statesman Don Isaac Abravanel to redeem them. The redeemed slaves, men, women and children, were housed, clothed, fed, and taught until they could support themselves.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all Israel is responsible for one another. In a world of atomization and individuality, our tradition reminds us that our responsibilities extend beyond ourselves. As the midrash expresses it, one must not say the hole in the boat is only a danger for the one who sits above the hole. We sink or swim as a people just as ultimately, we sink or swim as a world.