I received a one line email earlier in the week:
Rabbi, what is the Bible’s opinion on victimology?
It’s an interesting question. Especially now as there is so much talk about whether or not everyone is given the same chance at getting ahead in life.
It’s also an interesting question because the Bible clearly believes in taking personal responsibility and that I cannot give excuses for my poor behavior based on my circumstances. On the other hand, compassion for the under privileged and less fortunate is an essential Torah values; charity is one of Judaism’s major contributions to the world. So, in the end, where do we stand on the issue? It depends who is being asked the question.
When observing others and their life’s challenges, we need to approach them with absolute compassion and seek to give them any and all opportunities to get ahead. That is our G-d given mandate, to help those who need our help. We aren’t to judge; we are simply to assist.
On the other hand, when we ourselves as an individual are looking in the mirror, we should not give ourselves the excuse to fail because of lack of opportunity or a challenging childhood. Judaism believes that every circumstance presented to us is by Divine Providence; if I am dealt a difficult set of circumstances, be it by nature or nurture, in childhood or anytime along the way, this is the clearest indication that I was also given the herculean strength to overcome this challenge and rise above it. In fact, this might very well be why I am here; the very purpose of my soul’s mission is often seen by the specific challenges life presents me with.
Think of G-d as your personal trainer. When you are asked to lift more weights it’s not because someone’s out to get you; it’s because the Trainer recognizes your inner strength and deems you able to conquer yet another challenge and reach greater heights.
A few heroes come to mind when discussing this subject.
I think of Hellen Keller who turned her ‘curses’ into blessings that continue to better the lives of millions all over the world. (We are very proud to host the Hellen Keller National Center right here in Port Washington.)
I think of Christopher Reeve who was struck down at the pinaccle of a hugely successful career as an actor and director. Instead of shrinking into self-pity and oblivion, and with the courageous help of his amazing wife and life’s partner, his impact on society was multiplied many times over. It was only after being dealt one of life’s most unspeakable tragedies that he truly became SUPERMAN. He goes down in history as a real super-hero, championing many life changing causes including stem cell research, not to mention becoming an icon of the resilience of the human sprit.
I think of a dear friend and colleague, a Chabad Shliach in California, Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz (whom I refer to as the Jewish Christopher Reeve), who was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. He has since led an international movement, from his bed… using only his eyes to write an active Torah blog, inspiring millions from all faiths to be all they can be. Here too, it’s with the heroic support and assistance of his amazing wife. (To learn more, grab a box of tissues… and Google Yitzi Hurwitz. Be prepared to be inspired to stop kvetching. Forever!)
I think of the homeless Long Island girl who became an Intel Semi-Finalist at her Suffolk County high school in 2012; I will never forget how reading the story in Newsday at the time gave me an emotional lift for days. Wow! To the power of the unstoppable human soul!
I think of a young 28 year old Chabad rabbi from Utah, Rabbi Avremie Zippel, a friend and classmate of my own son Ephraim, who just did an extraordinary interview sharing his story of molestation and abuse by his own nanny (!) beginning in young childhood. I urge you to watch the interview (YouTube, search Rabbi Avremie Zippel); instead of complaints, you’ll hear a young man wise way beyond his years, who understands that each of us has our own individual Divine purpose for which we were placed here on earth. He understands and embraces his horrific challenges to be part and parcel of his journey and purpose, which he is accomplishing on a global level, uplifting and empowering countless thousands who have suffered their own life’s challenges, whatever those might be, to lift themselves up and try to live again.
So, dear friends, as the world grapples with these difficult issues, let us turn to our Torah, the eternal source of wisdom and guidance. Allow it to fill us with compassion and love for others, while empowering ourselves to fully and completely embrace our individual journey, with all of its hills and valleys, as integral to our soul’s purpose here on earth.
May Gd bring blessings and healing to a world much in need of it at the moment.
-Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel
Chabad of Port Washington
“Judaism with a Smile”