The devastating destruction that has taken place in Turkey and Syria is absolutely heartbreaking.
The picture of the newborn baby pulled from the wreckage in Syria, is an image that will come to define this tragedy.
Although the baby was in the rebel-held area of northern Syria, no effort is being spared to provide assistance. We all recognize that earthquakes do not respect borders or frontiers and people must be helped whoever and wherever they are.
Humanitarian aid has flooded in but so much more is needed. Your contribution will be very much appreciated. You can donate through one of the many aid agencies, or via the Jewish community using World Jewish Relief.
If there is one positive aspect of this tragedy, it is that nations have responded positively, irrespective of their political position.
There was a time in history when one country’s disaster was another’s celebration. Entire empires were built upon others’ ruin and misery. Ancient and medieval history is fraught with wars and aggression between nations. Every empire was out to conquer and humiliate its neighbour, with no concept of helping another nation in need.
Today we see a radically different world. Instead of pillaging and exploiting the misfortune of others, we frequently witness an admirable outpouring of international aid – from nations and from individuals. Obviously there is always more that could be done to address people in crisis. Yet, it is important to acknowledge every positive gesture of help.
So, on one hand we cry over the epic proportions of this tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, families shattered, millions traumatized. And, above all, we have been exposed to the sheer vulnerability of our lives on Earth.
Yet, at the same time, tragedy serves as a wake-up call and compels us to act and intensify our commitment to goodness – and do everything in our power to help the less fortunate.
The outpouring of humanitarian aid can be seen as a value underpinning the giving of the Torah that we read about in this week’s parasha.
Jethro advises Moses: “You shall teach them…the way they must act.” (Exodus 18:20).The Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b) explains that this refers to behaving lifnim mishurat hadin – acting beyond the letter of the law. Whatever the circumstances, always try to do more than is required.
There is no law that compels individuals or nations to send humanitarian aid to victims of disaster. Yet we know it is our moral requirement. The civilised world has accepted that this is the right way to behave. As Jews and as humanitarians we must live up to our responsibilities.