Rabbi Hiyya once advised his wife, “When a poor man comes to the door, give him food so that the same may be done to your children.”
“You are cursing them!” his wife shot back, irked by the suggestion that her kids could become beggars.
But Rabbi Hiyya replied, “There is a wheel, which revolves in this world.”
This story from the Talmud contains powerful lessons, helping us understand the fears that may lead us to “other” those in need.
We should definitely help one another, recognizing that any one of us might be in need, and seeing the face of “the other” in ourselves or our children.
“There is a wheel, which revolves in this world,” or, as is sometimes said: “what goes around, comes around.”
Reflecting on our inherent vulnerability can be frightening. Still, any one of us is just a tragedy or diagnosis away from desperate straits.
Too often, we find that those who are poor or ill get blamed for their own misfortune. We seem to be hardwired to shift that responsibility to others, blaming them instead of owning our obligation. It’s too easy to say, “It’s not my problem.”
When we do this, we are trying to avoid feeling – feeling helpless for others’ misfortunes, feeling guilty for the privileges that others lack, feeling unworthy, feeling insecure about the scarcity of resources, feeling empathy when realizing that someone else’s need could just as easily be our own.
Pope Francis recently tweeted: “If we fail to suffer with those who suffer, even those of different religions, languages or cultures, we need to question our own humanity.”
Being a person of faith means looking at tragedy and discerning opportunity – opportunity to make divine love visible by sharing ourselves and working together to bring hope and healing to all who suffer. Scripture is clear: We are commanded to share our resources with those in need.
For example, hospitals can share with countries those medical supplies and equipment that would otherwise be sent to landfills. The late Dr. Norton Waterman, former president of the medical staff at Jewish Hospital, worked with other physicians of the Greater Louisville Medical Society in 1993 to form Supplies Over Seas (SOS), which has delivered more than 1.5 million pounds of life-saving items to medically impoverished communities in 103 countries, including the United States.
KentuckyOne Health supports Supplies Over Seas. Just a few weeks ago, I witnessed the loading of a 40-foot ocean-going container of medical supplies and equipment bound for the Friends Eye Center in Tamale, a city in the West African country of Ghana. The container was made possible through the combined efforts of 13-year old Jordon Goldberg, of Louisville World Sight, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Ministry Fund and KentuckyOne Health.
So how did Jordan get involved?
As he prepared for his bar mitzvah, Jordan decided to put the doctrines and prayers he was learning into action. He heard about SOS and reached out, hoping to have a global impact and “truly make a difference.”
As momentum for his project grew, so did the participation and generosity of others. SOS secured the funding needed to send the container, and its precious 15,000-pound cargo, which was valued at $203,107. The supplies gave medical relief to poverty-stricken Ghanaian men, women and children.
Ghana is one of the countries most impacted by genetic cataracts, which affects children and adults alike. More than 700,000 people in that country are blind or have visually impaired conditions correctable with medical treatment. Dr. Seth Wanye, of Ghana, an ophthalmologist and project coordinator, lauded Friends Eye Center and other rural health clinics that work to improve or restore vision to thousands in need. He spoke powerfully of the blindness epidemic that affects people in Tamale.
Upon reflection, it does indeed appear to have been grace that called a Jewish boy to partner with the Catholic community, and others, to fulfill this vision of a Jewish doctor and this vision of a saint from Calcutta.
For KentuckyOne Health, formed through the partnership between the Jewish and Catholic community, it is especially meaningful for our hospital to have been able to contribute to this mitzvah project.
At a time when religion can seem to divide us, how encouraging it is to see ways in which it brings us closer, helping to render visible divine presence in a world that so desperately needs healing. May we all be so inspired.
(Rabbi Nadia Siritsky is vice president of mission at KentuckyOne Health.)