You Must Not Remain Indifferent
Last month, a friend of mine posted an alert on facebook that her dog Sophie had escaped by digging under the fence in their backyard. For five days Sophie wandered around Indianapolis and was found three and a half miles from her home. Her photo was posted across social media on lost pet pages, and shared by friends and strangers. People reported possible sightings and her humans drove all over searching for her. Finally on the fifth day, someone reported seeing her near a middle school, and then in a nearby neighborhood. While searching around that area, Sophie's humans decided to drive through the Congregation Beth El Zedeck parking lot, and by some miraculous chance Sophie was there in the middle of the lot.
Once she recognized the car, Sophie ran straight to them and jumped in!
The moment I saw that Sophie was reunited with her humans… and that they found her in a Temple parking lot, I knew Sophie’s big adventure would make it into a sermon eventually. While Sophie's family attends Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation a few blocks away, the metaphors in this story could not have been more perfect in this uncertain time of COVID-19 and political unrest.
Sophie, like many of us, was feeling trapped. Though she loves her family very much, she just wanted to get out for an adventure. While it is impossible to know exactly what she experienced in those five missing days, we know that her humans were very concerned.
In this week’s parsha, we are called not to ignore when we see our neighbors animal has gone astray. We are instructed to take the animal back to our neighbor. (In the Torah, the animal is described as a sheep or ox, but dogs and cat’s fit just as well!) We are taught if we do not know where the animal belongs, or it is far from its home, we should look after it until it is claimed. The commandment concludes. “So too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.”
In Sophie’s story, we watched this commandment play out in real time, but in a modern way. It should be noted that Sophie is an anxious dog who does not like the company of strangers. In the lost pet posting, it was clarified that she should not be approached, instead the owners should be contacted immediately. For five days, people all over Indianapolis were on the lookout for her. Sightings were reported on social media and by phone, and with the help of a community of pet lovers and menches, Sophie made it home where she belonged. The community saw the plea to help find her, and they did not remain indifferent.
In this commandment, we are taught not to look away when we notice our neighbor has misplaced something. We are instructed to care for each other, even when we don't know one another. I believed that this lesson transcends the way we treat each other's belongings, and ought to extend to the way we treat each other as human beings.
The treatment of others has been a central theme in news headlines this year:
- Reporters tear apart politicians, and politicians tear apart each other.
- Wearing a mask has somehow turned into a political issue. Even though a mast is a scientifically proven, simple device that protects other people from you, in the case that you may be unknowingly carrying a deadly virus.
- Black Americans continue to be disproportionately targeted and killed by police officers.
- Protests calling for police reform have persisted since the unjust murder of George Floyd.
- Earlier this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake was shot in the back 7 times by a police officer. Awake in the hospital and partially paralyzed, Jacob asked his father, “Why did they shoot me so many times?” to which his father replied, “baby, they weren’t supposed to shoot you at all.”
Our response to cries for justice must not be indifference. When we are around others, we should wear masks, to protect them and to lead by example. When it comes time to vote, we must cast our ballots. It is our duty to vote for the candidate that we believe will uphold our values. When we see our Black neighbors being systematically oppressed, we must not look away. When they share their stories of racist interactions and attacks, we must listen. And whenever we have the opportunity to use our position in life to stand up against bigotry, on line or in person, we should remember that Torah teaches, “we too were strangers in Egypt.” We too needed help gaining liberation. Our generations’ long fight for freedom and equity has prepared us for this moment in history.
As we approach the High Holy Days, may we grasp tight this lesson that we are responsible for one another. May this be a season of reflection, renewal, and justice for all.