Why is it we’re so fascinated by other people’s tragedy? Is it because we sympathize with those who are in pain or distress and we want to do something to help them? Is it because we feel fortunate that it is not our own suffering? Is it because, on some level, we place ourselves “in the shoes” of others and imagine how we would respond under similar circumstances? We see most of what’s happening in our local area and other cities and towns, even other places in other nations, almost instantly on television, like the tragedy on the train tracks in Oxnard, California early this week, the latest terror attack, the tragedies of war, poverty, economic oppression, the natural, capricious destructive forces of the world and so much more. “Reality” TV has made a business out of our tendency to be “looky loo’s”, voyeurs.
Is there a Jewish response to all this? Of course, there is! There’s at least one Jewish response (usually more!) to everything? Here are three Jewish values that come to mind for me immediately:
- Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa – To not stand idly by (the blood of our neighbor) [Leviticus 19:16]
- Clearly, sometimes we literally see our neighbor bleeding and in such circumstances we are mandated to not just stand there but rather to help (or call in professionals who are trained how to help).
- Other times, our neighbor (someone we know or don’t know) isn’t really bleeding blood, but they are “bleeding” dignity, integrity, self-esteem, hope, confidence and more. We’re mandated to come to their aid.
- Halbanat Panim – the avoidance of publically humiliating someone, to respect the personal dignity of others (even in compromising circumstances. [various Talmudic sources such as Moed Katan 9b.
- Taken to its extreme, public humiliation is considered tantamount to murder because people’s “good names”, that is their reputations, is the essence of their social lives.
- On the other hand, our reputations may not be all we have, but we should still never humiliate someone because…
- “Alakh s’nai l’khavrekh la ta’avaid” – What is hateful to you do not do to another” [Hillel the Elder in Shabbat 31a].
To which we should all say…“Amen!”