Home Shalom Monday Message #10

June 1, 2020

Home Shalom is dedicated to raising awareness of domestic abuse in the Jewish community, encouraging every synagogue and Jewish institution to become a safe sanctuary and providing tools for teens to master the skills of creating healthy relationships. Home Shalom is a program of The Advot Project.

“The prisoner can’t free himself from prison.” Talmud Berahot 5b

The quote above comes from a story told in the ancient Jewish writings of the Talmud that reveals a fundamental truth about life. Rabbi Yohanan who was known as a powerful spiritual healer heard that his dear friend Rabbi Hiyya was very sick so Rabbi Yohanan came to his bedside, prayed over him then said, “Give me your hand,” and he raised him up and he was healed of his sickness. As the story continues, it so happened that Rabbi Yohanan himself became sick so his friend Rabbi Hiyya came to visit. When he saw Rabbi Yohanan’s condition he prayed over him and said, “Give me your hand,” and he, too was raised up and was healed of his sickness. He then asked Rabbi Yohanan, “Since you are known to be a powerful healer, why couldn’t you simply heal yourself?” and Rabbi Yohanan replied, “The prisoner can’t free himself from prison.”

The lesson in this ancient Talmudic tale is a powerful one. Four hundred years ago it was echoed by John Donne in his famous poem (excuse the sexist language of the time), “No man is an island.” The profound truth that this story teaches is that a society stands or falls together. We need each other to be whole, to be complete, to thrive as individuals, as a community, as a country, as a world. If this current pandemic has taught us anything, it is surely that there are no such things as borders, or boundaries, or “us” and “them,” anymore for we are all in this together. Regardless of race or religion, culture or custom, language or lineage we are all simply human beings doing our best to create lives of meaning and purpose in an increasingly challenging and sadly once again, violent world. “The prisoner can’t free himself from prison,” reminds us that what it means to be part of a community is to recognize that each of us must lift up each other and stand up for each other when times are difficult.

Our entire country has been rocked this past week by yet another senseless racist death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man at the callous hands of one policeman while others stood by watching and doing nothing. Communities across the nation are on fire once again, 28 years after Rodney King’s fateful plea, “Can’t we all just get along,” continues to fall on deaf ears and boys and men of color continue to fear for their lives every single day. How poignant to remember the ancient words of the Talmud, “A prisoner can’t free himself from prison,” at this very moment, remembering that those in power will only change when enough of us who care stand up and insist that, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the God-given right of all regardless of race, or economic status, culture or gender.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan once said, “One must have indomitable faith in human nature if we are not to be embittered by its savageries.” Yes, we do and we must have faith in human nature and believe that standing together we can raise each other up and let the essential divine spark that is within us all shine the light of justice and compassion where it is so sorely needed in our community. Now is not the time to suffer alone, but rather to open your heart to those who matter in your life and have faith that what comes from one heart will always touch the heart of another. Let us know if we can be there for you, call the numbers below if you need them and we will free each other from the emotional, spiritual and physical prisons of our lives.

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Home Shalom
Naomi Ackerman, The Advot Project

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