As many of you know, I am in the middle of completing my Masters of Social Work and in the past few weeks I have had some of the most eye-opening experiences while interning at the Salvation Army’s CBD offices.
As part of this work I have visited some of the most vulnerable residents living in our State and, in conjunction with fellow Salvation Army workers, attempted to help them wherever possible.
Through my placement thus far I have come face to face with some of the permanent homeless that live in our city as well as some residents that I don’t usually encounter on a day to day basis, such as those suffering from substance addiction and other physical and mental ailments.
These experiences have had a profound impact on me, not only as a Rabbi, but as an individual who perhaps did not realize the extent of services that we have available to the community.
Upon meeting a homeless gentleman this week he remarked that I was “lucky to have such a good mob, you all take care of each other.” When he heard that I was a Rabbi.
Having had some time to reflect upon “our mob,” I think this gentleman was correct. While Jewish communities exist all around the world we do, thank G-d, have a particularly exceptional community in Melbourne with the excellent welfare services that see many of our sick, suffering and poorer members of the community helped enormously.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayetzei, the patriarch Yaakov is forced to leave his community and family in Haran and flee to his uncle Laban’s house. This journey results in a 20 year absence in which Yaakov, terrified of facing the wrath of his brother Esav, lives in a self-imposed exile from his community. This exile results in Yaakov meeting of his future wives and starting a family.
One of the verses that has always baffled me, is when Yaakov first meets his wife Rachel the text recounts that he kisses her and weeps loudly. For what reason is Yaakov crying?
Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, tells us what was going through Yaakov’s mind when he first laid eyes on Rachel. Rashi explains that Yaakov was embarrassed. When Yaakov’s grandfather Avraham had gone looking for a bride for Yaakov’s father Yitzchak he was able to lavish the family with generous gifts. However, in contrast, Yaakov arrived with nothing. Rashi comments that in this episode Yaakov is a poor man, and compares him to someone that is dead.
While Yaakov was not physically dead he had nothing and no one in the world and was on his way to try and forge a new beginning away from his community.
The Parsha resonated particularly strongly this week as many of people that I’m working with at the moment are sadly out of the minds of too many in our society. However, there is still hope as many of them are looking for support to make a new start. It has been a pleasure to help them just a little bit while they are on their journeys.
As a Jewish people we are certainly unique to have existed in the Diaspora for so many millennia while in exile. In many ways ‘our mob’ has always looked out for each other in a special way, a way which fosters community building and support of one and other.
In the Parsha Yaakov finds out the hard way what is it like to be a person without a centralised community. His father-in-law Lavan cheats him many times and even marries him off to the wrong woman! However, due to the fear of what awaited him back home he chooses to stay and continues to try to make do with what he has.
My experience these past few weeks have shown me that we cannot take our community for granted and we must be grateful for what we have. We also have to continue to give back and help those that are less fortunate than us and do not “belong to the mob.”
As a community, and as individuals, we are in a strong position to help others. We have a lot to offer and we are in a privileged position that should not be taken for granted!