Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions

Ki Tetze – Do Not Disappear

Perhaps the oldest magic trick is to make something disappear.  As an audience, we are astonished – how does anything suddenly vanish? The Torah reminds us that we perform this astounding bit of prestidigitation all the time, only we do it with ourselves. 

Deuteronomy 22 teaches that when you see another’s oxen or sheep that is lost, you should not remain indifferent. In other words, the Torah takes people’s property seriously and speaks of the responsibility to help others regain what they have lost. Each of us has an obligation to care for the belongings of others. 

Deeper than the civil legislation, however, is the wording: the usual translation is, “You may not remain indifferent.” The literal translation is, “You may not disappear.” 

We vanish by looking away. How many times have we seen acts of injustice but pretended they are not happening? Walked by someone in need, but hidden ourselves from them so we will not experience their call upon us? How often, knowing our presence is needed, have we instead vanished? To be invisible is to be unaccountable – it is not my fault, after all, I’m not even there. 

This could be an alternate motto for the ADL: “Don’t disappear!” Our aim is to encourage people to show up, to be there for one another, to take the concerns and fears and losses of other people seriously, not to remain indifferent, and not to vanish at a time of need. 

We have many stratagems for avoiding the difficult work of aiding others. We pretend it isn’t possible, saying, “I can’t” when we really mean, “I won’t.” When asked to oppose hatred or bigotry or injustice, people will say, “I can’t.” It isn’t true that we can’t. In this case, remove the apostrophe, because it is cant. All that is required is the passion to make things better. In a world where hatred is on the march and discrimination is a reality in many people’s lives, the Torah’s admonition rings throughout the ages: You are needed. Do not disappear.