The back wall of our shul is covered by posters of hundreds of hostages stuck in Gaza. It allows us to glance at those faces, 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, but I am starting to realize that it is also causing us to be terribly distracted from an equal if not more important need.
The idea of placing who you are davening for in your field of vision can be traced back to Yitzchak Avinu. When he davens for Hashem to bless Rivka with children, the Torah describes him standing “opposite” his wife. Rashi comments that he and Rivka stood in opposite corners of the home. The Radak suggests otherwise. 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 five weeks. We’ve been running from Tehillim gathering to Tehillim gathering, buying out every duffel bag in the country and stuffing it with anything the chayalim can possibly need, organizing our communities to make our way to Washington, and in between it all, doom-scrolling our way through the news; every rocket a shudder, every new death a stab in our heart. Mi k’amcha Yisrael! We are truly united with acheinu kol beis Yisrael and have not lost sight of them for even a moment.
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. 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. 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.
In the seats between where I stand and the back wall, there are still widows and divorcees who need Shabbos invitations and orphans who need guidance. The impoverished who need our support. Singles who still need to be set up. There are the empty seats of those who are ill or sitting shiva, who need visits. As I’ve been gazing at the faces of the hostages, have I glossed over the many standing right before me?
Over the past weeks I have heard of too many Jewish schools afraid to run fundraisers because it would come across as tone deaf; how they will provide for their teachers remains to be seen. 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. 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 spouse 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.
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, paid more attention, and performed more chesed than ever before. 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.