For this command is a lamp,
this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
are the way to life . . . — Proverbs 6:23
What would you do if you saw a boy about 10 years old, looking dirty and ragged, rummaging through a garbage bin on a public street? Would you stop and ask him if he is all right? Would you take the time to care? Would you be willing to take actions that might help the boy?
This is what the New Zealand Police Force asked the public in a video they released earlier this year. The short clip featured a young actor who played the part of a homeless child looking for food in the trash. The project was a social experiment to see how people would react – or more precisely – not react to the poor boy’s plight.
The camera captures dozens of well-dressed people walking past the child without saying a word. Some passersby approached the boy, but only to throw away trash in the bins he was sorting through. One person even appeared to take a picture of the child with his smartphone. Eventually, three school-aged young women are the only ones to stop and ask about the boy’s welfare, offering him food and money.
Sadly, the overwhelming majority completely ignored this obviously tragic situation.
In the Exodus story in the Bible, we read about the ten plagues that God, through Moses, brought upon Egypt before they agreed to let the Israelites go. The ninth plague was the plague of darkness. Scripture reads: “So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else . . .” (Exodus 10:22–23). Commenting on this verse, one prominent 19th-century rabbi taught, “The worst darkness is when a person does not want to see his suffering brother and to extend to him support.” This was the true darkness of Egypt – even before the plague began. They could not see the suffering of the Israelites. They turned a blind eye to the pain of others.
In contrast, we learn in Proverbs: “For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light . . .” Solomon is comparing God’s Word to light. Just as darkness blinds us to the suffering of others, the goal of the Torah is to open our eyes to the needs of others. The Bible teaches us that all people are created in the image of God. Scripture directs us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The way of God is the way of light — of seeing the suffering of others and helping where we can.
What will we do if we see someone struggling today? Will we turn the other way? Or will we be the exception to the rule, lighting the way with empathy, generosity, and love? The choice is ours.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President