The Roadside Rescue

May 24, 2024

Opportunities for acts of kindness surround us all the time. If we open our eyes and hearts, we can find them at every turn. We can never know the impact of what a simple act of kindness will be. Here is one example that is especially relevant to the events of October 7th and the ongoing war in Gaza.

A secular Israeli man named Jacob was stranded on the side of the road one Friday afternoon, having run out of gas. As he waited there with his wife and two kids, wondering when help would arrive, a religious man named Judah pulled over and asked how he could assist. When Jacob explained that he needed gas, Judah offered to drive to the nearest gas station and bring some back. Within 20 minutes, the car had enough gas to take the family where they needed to go. Judah refused to accept payment for the gas. The two men exchanged phone numbers and went on their way, with Judah making it home in time to observe the Sabbath.

The men stayed in touch. One day, Jacob expressed interest in experiencing the Sabbath. Judah invited Jacob’s family to join his for the holiday of Simchat Torah, which fell on that fateful Saturday, October 7, 2023. Judah changed his plans—instead of visiting his father in the southern community of Sderot, Judah’s father and Jacob’s family, who lived in the southern community of Be’eri, visited Judah in his hometown of B’nei Brak. Sderot and Be’eri were both hit hard as terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing 12,000 people. However, all three families, who were celebrating the Sabbath and holiday in B’nei Brak, were spared from the horrors of that day.

We find ourselves in the time period known as Sefirat HaOmer, the seven-week count from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot. During this period, we count each day in anticipation of the momentous occasion when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai. This counting is commanded by God:

However, this time of anticipation and celebration also carries a somber note. It became a period of mourning due to the tragic deaths of the great sage Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. According to the sages, these students perished because they did not show proper respect and honor toward one another.

This tragedy is particularly poignant considering that Rabbi Akiva himself taught that loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) is the most important principle in the entire Torah. His teachings emphasize the centrality of kindness and respect in our interactions with others. This period of mourning thus serves as a stark reminder of the consequences when we fail to uphold these values.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Rebbe of Lubavitch, offered a profound insight into the commandment to love our neighbors. He questioned why the human heart is positioned on the left side of the body when, in Judaism, the right side is associated with holiness and strength. We perform many sacred acts with our right hand: putting on phylacteries, holding something we are blessing and holding the Torah scroll. The Rebbe explained that when you face another person, your heart is opposite their right side, symbolizing that our hearts beat not for ourselves but for others.

This teaching encapsulates the essence of “love your fellow as yourself.” It calls on us to center our lives around the needs of others, to make our hearts beat for the well-being of our fellow human beings. When we live with this principle, our hearts, metaphorically, are on the right side – the side of kindness, compassion and holiness.

By internalizing these lessons, we transform our interactions and relationships, ensuring that we honor and respect each person we encounter. In doing so, we not only uphold the teachings of our sages but also create a world where our collective heart beats in unison for the good of all.

The story of Judah and Jacob illustrates this principle perfectly. A simple act of kindness not only helped a stranded family but also forged a bond that ultimately saved lives. As we learn from the students of Rabbi Akiva, it is not enough to study the Bible and follow the commandments; we must first and foremost be good people. Our hearts should beat for others, and our actions should reflect the love and respect that is central to our faith. Through kindness, we can create ripples of positive change that extend far beyond our immediate actions, impacting lives in ways we may never fully comprehend.

The Israel365 Charity Fund is dedicated to strengthening and supporting the people of Israel who need our help. Donate to the Israel365 Charity Fund today.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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