Shabbat Shalom: The Opposite of Good Is Indifference
On this first Shabbat of the New Year, we read VaYelekh, a parsha that captures the preparations by God, Moses, and Joshua for a transition in leadership from the generation that wandered the desert. This follows the Jewish people’s redemption from Egypt to a new generation ready to inhabit the long-promised land of Israel.
In a poignant, made-for-Hollywood scene, Moses and Joshua stand together in the Communion Tent, in meditation. God speaks to Moses, “When you go and lie with your ancestors, this nation shall rise up and stray after alien gods of the land into which they are coming. They will abandon Me and violate the covenant that I have made with them.”
It’s an astonishing message from God to Moses. So much for a job well done. Thanks for all your work. No, instead, the message is of despair. Perhaps the message was intended more as a warning to Joshua? Whatever the intention, the message is humbling and frightful when thinking about the survivability of the values and people formed in the desert’s journey. And yet, therein lies the irony. Even here in this reading, some 3,200 years ago, our people worried about the transmission of our values and ways.
Fast forward through the centuries and millennia to today. While the ever-present angst about continuity continues, we can also argue that we stand in a time of great renaissance – though I’ll save that for another Shabbat message. What I will reflect on is our collective strength. The Jewish People today is in a position, with the diaspora and Israel communities working in partnership, to respond to the greatest needs with certainty and determination. The values furthered by Moses, then Joshua, flourish. In the most elemental example, one Jew saving the life of another Jew has continued throughout these centuries. We are called upon to act yet again today.
Already this year, tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian Jews have fled for Israel. Putin’s recent call for the conscription of 300,000 soldiers came with a statement calling for a “hefty contribution” on the part of the Jewish community toward the war effort. Meanwhile, Israel is readying for a potential “mass absorption” of people from Russia. Outbound flight prices to nearby destinations have spiked dramatically. A single ticket from Moscow to Tel Aviv reportedly increased by as much as $5,000.
Fortunately, JEWISHcolorado’s global partner agencies continue their work, not just in Ukraine, but also in Russia and Israel. As they rush to save lives, to reunite families, and to bring hope to fellow Jews, they need our support. JEWISHcolorado, the Jewish Federation of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, and nearly two dozen other agencies are there, whether as Russian-speaking volunteers who are providing High Holy day activities, or providing food, medicine and shelter to vulnerable people in Odessa too old or ill to travel, or whisking 400 women and children to safety in a shelter in Germany, your assistance helps each and all of them. The same is the case for Ethiopian Jews caught amidst a civil war. The remaining Ethiopian Jewish community is currently being resettled in Israel.
This holiday of Yom Kippur, I ask you to join the effort. It is our collective duty as a Jewish people to ensure that Ukrainian, Russian and Ethiopian refugees who are far from their homes and who are uncertain about their futures know that we are there to help.
An anonymous donor to JEWISHcolorado will match each gift 1:2, up to $100,000 in the next 90 days. We have a goal of $300,000 by the end of 2022. Already, JEWISHcolorado and its community of generous donors has sent $400,000 to Ukraine. Federations are now supporting many NGO’s that are operating on the ground in Ukraine, Russia and neighboring countries. These include Jewish Federation partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and World ORT; as well as United Hatzalah, Hillel International, Nefesh B’Nefesh, HIAS, the Israel Trauma Coalition, Hadassah Medical Organization, Chabad, Shma Yisrael, Project Kesher, JCC Krakow, Jewish Community Vienna, the Emergency Volunteer Program, Magen David Adom, Global Surgical Medical Corps, Office of the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rescuers Without Borders and others. Similar efforts are underway in Ethiopia.
Recall the powerful words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference…. where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
G’mar chatima tova. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Jay Strear at CEO@jewishcolorado.org with comments or questions.