For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Fellowship  |  July 10, 2019

Israeli flag flying below a Liberty Bell.

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” — Leviticus 1:2

Suffering, in all its various forms, is a universal human experience. While there often isn’t an answer to the question why suffering exists, there are many answers to how we can respond to the suffering of others. Our devotions explore how God comforts us, and how we can comfort others in times of suffering.

As we begin the book of Leviticus, the first thing we learn is the following: “When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The Jewish sages note the phrase, “anyone among you,” and comment that it seems superfluous. Couldn’t the verse simply state, “When someone brings an offering to the Lord”?

The sages give a beautiful explanation for these seemingly extra words. The words teach us that whatever is done by one person is a reflection on us all. No man is an island – we are all part of one whole. Whatever one person does shapes and influences the rest of us. Similarly, whatever one of us does is often the result of the influence and shaping from those around us.

Humanity is not a group of individuals going about individual lives in separate worlds. Humanity is one whole – individual parts coming together to form one body and one soul. Therefore, if someone sinned and that person had to bring a sacrifice to God, then in part, all of Israel was responsible.

When someone commits a sin — whether it’s in our family, among our friends, at work, or at synagogue or our church — it is as if a part of our body has become dysfunctional. We all know that if one part of our body has a problem, it affects the entire body. Moreover, if one part becomes diseased, it’s because the body has created an environment conducive to disease. This is why the verse states, “When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD. . . The sinner is from “among you” – as one being, we are all impacted and partially responsible.

This idea is beautifully expressed by the famed English poet and preacher, John Donne. He wrote:

“All mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a different language . . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne so beautifully captures the oneness of humanity to the point where he feels that the death of any person is a blow to us all. This is why he wrote that whenever the funeral bell rings, it rings for us, too. What any of us suffer, we all suffer to a certain extent.

We can put this perspective into practice this week as we make an extra effort to share the pain of those suffering around us. We can love those with whom we may not agree. And most importantly, we can be a healthy and healing influence for all humanity.