What do we do next?

We gathered as a community for an inspiring Shabbos afternoon, we went to numerous Tehilim gatherings, we have been calling our congressmen, we put up yard signs, we put up signs with the names and faces of the hostages, we went to a vigil, we’ve been praying more, learning more, some of us went to Israel, and this past Tuesday we gathered with almost 300,000 people to stand with Israel.  

What do we do next?

So many of us felt like we were on a high after that powerful show of solidarity. To hear the heart-breaking messages from the families of the hostages, to see the support from non-Jewish politicians and leaders of other faiths, to sing Acheinu, Esah Einai, (and yes, even One Day!) with a quarter of a million fellow Jews. Truly, an experience of a lifetime.

How do we continue to combat the growing anti-semitism in our backyard? How do we continue to provide political, material, and spiritual support for Israel? What do we do next?

I’d like to suggest that instead of doing more, instead of taking on a new project for Israel we pause for a moment before we consider what to do next. Because we are forgetting something. Or more honestly, I feel like I am forgetting something.

As you know and as you can see, the back wall of our shul is covered by posters of hundreds of hostages stuck in Gaza. I’m proud of our back wall. It allows us to glance at those faces of the elderly, the infants, the helpless, to gain a moment of inspiration before turning back to our Father in Heaven and begging Him to let them all return home in safety. It’s a powerful tool to help us focus.

The idea of placing who you are davening for in your field of vision can be traced back to the opening passage in this week’s parsha. When Yitzchak davens for Hashem to bless Rivkah with children, the Torah describes him standing “opposite” his wife. Rashi comments that he and Rivkah stood in opposite corners of the home. The Radak suggests otherwise. He suggests that Yitzchak stood opposite of his wife, meaning, he davened facing her, “she’yichavein libo aleha, so he could focus his heart on her.”

The hostages, the soldiers, and all the Jews in Israel have been “opposite us” for the past six weeks. And it’s beautiful. We are truly united with our brothers and sisters and have not lost sight of them for even a moment. I don’t think anyone has gotten nay work done; we’ve been running from event to event, saying tehilim and reading the news in between. The people of Israel have truly been opposite us 24/7.

But there’s more we can learn from Yitzchak. You have to wonder why, according to the Radak, Yitzchak needed to place his wife before him so he could focus his heart on her. Could there be anything more important? Could he possibly have been thinking about anything or anyone else when his wife was barren and desperate for a child?

Apparently, yes. As the spiritual heir of Avraham, he likely had hundreds if not thousands of people who turned to him for assistance, who he inspired and led. It would seem that Yitzchak was focused on many big and important projects; initiatives that would change the future of humankind. But at some point, Yitzchak realized that he was ignoring what, or rather, who was standing right before him. Yitzchak realized that sometimes we could be so focused on all the people out there that we could forget about those who are already standing right before us.

I look out at those pictures and see those innocent faces staring back at me, but in doing so, I fear that I am looking over the heads of so many of you in the seats between me and those pictures. If I am being honest with myself, and I embarrassed to say this out loud, but in my zeal to be there for the people of Israel I haven’t been there as much as I should be for the people of Ner Tamid.

Like Yitzchak, sometimes we need to stop, sometimes we need to pull ourselves away from the big and compelling picture and remind ourselves of the needs of the people standing before us. I could relate to Yitzchak. He had to reorient himself, he had to stand opposite his wife. Otherwise, he would have been distracted with noble causes pulling on his heart and attention.

In the laws of charity, there is a principle of prioritization – those who are closest to you deserve the most focus. Before we give to impoverished children in Africa, we are to make sure that those in Baltimore are cared for. Before we give to those in Baltimore, we are to make sure that those in our family have what they need. We do need to care for those in Israel, but we have to make sure that we don’t lose sight of those in our midst.

There are grieving mothers in Israel. And there are also grieving mothers in the seats near you. There are people living in constant fear and pain due to rocket attacks and the trauma of October 7th. And there also countless people living with all forms of trauma in our pews. There are ill people who need to be visited, not only in Tel Hashomer, but right here, in Sinai and in Johns Hopkins. The soldiers of the IDF have enough food at this point; there are countless people just a few feet away who could use a Shabbos invitation.

I think we’ve all been distracted. Distracted with the most noble of causes, but distracted nonetheless. It’s time we place our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends, before us, she’yichavnu libeinu aleihem, so that we could focus our hearts upon them.

In too many conversations with people going through genuinely distressful situations that need to be resolved, I hear apologies for bringing up their issues because of everything else going on. I wonder, how many are not reaching out? How many are suffering in silence? Not to mention the sheer loneliness that those who live alone are feeling right now with no one to comfort them or allay their fears. Not to mention those already in a state of depression or helplessness who now feel like the world is truly caving in. There are too many in our community who already carry tremendous burdens; they need our support and attention, now more than ever. Before we address what is next; let’s focus on what and who is first.  

It need not be an either or. If there is one thing we learned these past weeks it is that the Jewish People are capable of doing even more that we ever thought; we have given more tzedakah, learned more Torah, paid more attention, and performed more chesed than ever before. I have been blown away by what we, in this community, in this shul, have accomplished. It is mind-boggling and a source of appropriate pride.

We are capable of providing for those in Israel who need our help and those at home. We can remain focused on those in captivity and those in the line of fire without losing sight of those right before our eyes.