We are all familiar with the story of the plagues that were brought upon Egypt. Repeatedly, Moses goes to Pharaoh and demands “let my people go.” But each time, the Pharaoh “hardens his heart,” and so the plagues are brought upon Egypt; each intended to arouse in Pharaoh an awareness that there is a higher god than he – a god who is determined to watch over and redeem the Israelite people.
One of my favorite teachings in the entire Torah concerns the plague of darkness that was brought upon Egypt. The Torah describes the darkness as being so thick and heavy that the people “saw not one another.” But our sages had an interesting interpretation of this plague. They contended that it was not so much a darkness that affected the eyes, as much as it was a darkness that affected the heart. Physically, the people were able to see. But they lost the capacity to “see” each other. They lost the capacity to feel for each other’s pain and to care about each other.
I think this interpretation speaks very much to our world at a time when it seems that so many have lost that ability to “see” each other. As episodes of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate are on the rise, something important occurred yesterday that merits our attention. Some 46 dignitaries from all over the world came together in Jerusalem to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. They included presidents and prime ministers who came together to lend their voices to the declaration of “Never Again.”
It was in January of 1945 that Soviet soldiers liberated the last remaining prisoners of Auschwitz. There were 7,000 survivors in the camp, mostly sick and dying. An estimated 1,300,000 men, women and children had been deported to Auschwitz between 1940-1945. Of these at least 1,100,000 were murdered. The atrocity happened not only because of the evil Nazis, but because so much of our world remained silent even as it was known that an unimaginable number of Jews were being murdered. Yes, our world lost the ability to “see” as innocent people endured some of the worst cruelty that humanity has brought upon itself.
It has been wisely said that “our human energies are too abundant for living indifferently, and that we are therefore either ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil.” As we Jews have learned so well, to assume a posture of helplessness or moral blindness is to be part of the evil that exists in our world. Especially at this troubling time, let us and our children affirm the message that “we are ministers of the sacred.”