D’var Torah for Shavuot: Keepers of Our Brothers and Sisters

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites. The Torah is one of the greatest gifts ever given to humanity. In honor of this, I would like to share one of my favorite bits of Torah. Perhaps over this holiday and some cheesecake, you can discuss with family and friends what parts of the Torah are especially meaningful to you.

The Torah I have been thinking about lately comes at the end of the Cain and Abel story. Cain has killed his brother Abel. God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies, “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?”

There is so much to unpack here. If God knows what happened, why is God asking? Is Cain lying when he says that he doesn’t know or is he truly baffled because he had never experienced death? The word “brother” appears a lot in this story — what message is this driving home? And the most famous question —  “am I my brother’s keeper?” — is meant by Cain to be an excuse but it turns out that it is one of the key mission statements of humanity.

There are so many things going on in this world that are very distressing. Many of them would not happen if people truly adhered to the idea that we are all keepers of our brothers (and sisters). Our natural impulse is to care about others but there are times when we dehumanize others in order to rationalize mistreating them. This can happen with online bullying, lashon hara, physical crimes, harassment and on and on. When we consider that all of humanity are our brothers and sisters, it is harder to mistreat one another.

Taking this further, religion can be a power for good in the world. However, I have little patience for religious views that demean others and don’t treat others as our brothers and sisters. Sometimes this dangerous impulse happens between religions and sometimes this happens within a religion.

It is important to advocate for what you believe is right while remembering that we are arguing with are our brothers and sisters. Each person is precious. Every summer at camp we try to build our community on individual relationships. The more connected we are the more we feel responsible for one another. When those relationships are strong, we can engage in spirited debate on almost any issue. My prayer is that more and more people will recognize universal brotherhood and sisterhood and treat each other accordingly. Chag Sameach!

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah