In the earliest days of humankind, a man named Cain asked God the now famous question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Cain’s question was meant to be a distraction from the inquiry into why he had murdered his brother Abel. Cain’s words, however, have eternal resonance as a powerful message about brotherhood. While God did not give Cain a direct yes/no response, it is implicit from the context that we should all view ourselves as our brother’s keeper. (Please note that while the language is masculine, the idea is universal.)
The Jewish people, diverse and spread out as they may be, remain a family connected by shared spiritual genetics. As in all families, of course, some relatives are closer than others, but the inherent bond remains.
Not long before they entered the Promised Land, the Children of Israel conquered the area east of the Jordan. The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who were attracted to the eastern lands, came to Moses and asked if their tribes could settle there. Moses’ immediate response to their request was “Shall your brothers go to war, and shall you stay here?” (Numbers 32:6).
Liberal or conservative, religious or secular, the Jewish people have found ways throughout history to support each other. Whether this meant writing a letter of support to a community in distress, such as Maimonides did to the Jews of Yemen in the 12th century or petitioning the President of the United States (Theodore Roosevelt) to speak out against the Kishinev Pogroms in 1903 in Russia, the unique unity of the Jewish people confirms that we do indeed remain our brothers’ keepers.
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