Philly’s Closer Than It Seems

Like many of you, I read about the horrific train crash in Philadelphia that has claimed at least eight lives.  Others are still missing.

At first blush, it seemed to be a story that had little to do with my life.  While I certainly was saddened by the seemingly senseless loss of life, I don’t regularly travel by train and I don’t visit Philadelphia often.  Other than concern for my fellow human beings, it wasn’t story that hit close to home.

Then, more details started to emerge.  One of the women who was killed in the crash grew up in the same town in which my parents and sisters now live (one town over from where I grew up).  Her mother is a local elected official, as was my father before he retired.  She worked in the non-profit world, as do I.  All of the sudden, the story became much more personal.

Further, I just realized a short while ago that my daughter Gabi is scheduled to visit the University of Pennsylvania this weekend.  She is traveling there by train.  Now, my connection to the story has gone to a whole new level.

I want to know more details.  I want to know what the engineer was thinking.  I want to know what I can do to help.

The truth is that I could probably find a connection to many more of the depressing stories that appear in the news.  However, it’s easier not to do the digging necessary to make the connections.  After all, who wants to be dragged down day after day?

This week’s Torah portion, though, pushes us to seek out those who are in need, those whom we could possibly help.

In three separate instances, a commandment begins with the words: “ki yamuch achicha – when your kinsman is in straits (lit: brought low).”  In each case, the Torah goes on to tell us how we are obligated to raise up members of our community who are experiencing difficult financial times.

Please note that the Torah says “when” not “if.”

Also, this phrase appears three times virtually in succession.  Our eye might miss it the first.  We can try to avoid the second.  But, we cannot help but see it by the third time.

We must redeem, strengthen and respect those who have been brought low – even when it would be more convenient to look away from the wreckage.  After all, the situation might be a lot closer to our home than we initially thought.






About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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