Pikuach Nefesh: Saving a Life- Discussion Questions

From AJWS Education Module: The Global HIV/AIDS Pandemic

לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי, לְלַמֶּדְךָ, שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא.

Therefore man was created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if he had saved a full world.

This principle of infinite value of every human being conflicts with notions of utilitarianism, which suggests that we should provide the greatest good for the greatest number, even if some people suffer. What policy problems might arise from embracing the principle of infinite value?

Given limited resources, how would you go about setting priorities for whom to help?

(ט) רַ֡ק הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֩ וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֨ח אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וּפֶן־יָס֙וּרוּ֙ מִלְּבָ֣בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּ֑יךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֥ם לְבָנֶ֖יךָ וְלִבְנֵ֥י בָנֶֽיךָ׃

But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children's children. [JPS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?

2. What power dynamics are at play?

3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Kedushat Levi on Parshat Noach

Translation Original
The verse which states "Take for yourself from all that is edible" is said in the language that implies one who feeds others. This is explained in the Midrash which states, "The woman that was given to me gave me (fruit) from the tree (and I eat)." The past tense, I ate, was not used in the verse. The Midrash teaches a general rule that through eating,a Jew eats in the manner of fixing the flaw of Adam HaRishon that was made through his eating. This fixing is done by way of the mitzvot that Jews do when eating, which are blessings said of one's food and other blessings said in regards to food before consumption. Therefore, the reason why the verse says "I eat" and not "I ate" implies that an element of Adam's original eating continues to this day. Thus through the consciousness of our eating, we can repair that which was flawed before.
הכלל, כי באכילה שאדם מישראל אוכל מתקן הפגם של אדם הראשון שפגם באכילה, דהיינו על ידי מצות שישראל עושים באכילה, הן בברכה על האכילה, הן בשאר מצוה שישראל עושים בהמאכל קודם האכילה, בבשר שחיטה ומליחה, ובכל מאכל יש מצות, מתקן הפגם של אדם הראשון. ובזה מבואר, 'ואוכל אכלתי לא נאמר אלא אכלתי ואוכל עוד', כלומר בזה שאוכל עוד, על ידי מצות, יתוקן מה שפגמתי.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does this text impact your "eating consciousness?"
2. How might eating consciously connect us to Adam HaRishon? Does this make sense to you?

Aruch HaShulchan, Laws of Tzedakah 251:4
Translation Original
We have already explained in another place that the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, stating that one is not obligated to give tzedakah until he has earned enough to support himself, deals only with fixed gifts such as tithes. Everyone – even a poor person who is sustained by tzedakah – is obligated to fulfill the basic mitzvah of tzedakah by giving at least a third of a shekel each year. Now there is something fundamental about the details of the laws above that troubles me deeply. For if we explain the texts that I have cited according to their simple meaning – that certain groups are prior to others – they imply that [one may distribute the entirety of one’s tzedakah money to one group within the established hierarchy] and need not give at all to those who fall outside of that particular group. But it is well known that every wealthy person has many more relatives who are poor, and how much more is that true for people whose tzedakah funds are scant! And if this is the case, poor people without wealthy relatives will die of starvation. Now how is it possible to say this? Therefore, in my humble opinion, the explanation of [tzedakah priorities] is as follows: Certainly every person, whether of modest or significant means, is obligated to give a portion of his [or her] tzedakah money to needy people who are not relatives. But to his [or her] poor relatives, he [or she] should give a greater amount than is given to those who are not related. And so on along the ladder of priorities. Regarding that which is stated that a person’s own welfare comes first, if that is explained according to its plain meaning, then most people would be exempt from the mitzvah of tzedakah altogether, excepting the one-third shekel per year. If only it were the case that most Jews could earn enough to meet their needs! But [seeing that they do not], should all but the wealthiest be exempt from tzedakah?! And in places where there are no wealthy residents, should people be left to starve? How is it possible to say this? Nor do people act this way. [translation by Rabbi David Rosenn, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps]
הנה כבר בארנו בסי' רמ"ח סעי' ג' דזה שכתבו שאינו חייב ליתן צדקה עד שיהיה לו פרנסתו זהו בצדקה תמידיות מעשר או חומש אבל לקיים מצות צדקה שלישית שקל בשנה מחוייב כל אדם אף עני המתפרנס מן הצדקה. האמנם בעיקרי הדברים ק"ל טובא דאם נאמר דברים כפשוטן דאלו קודמין לאלו ואלו לאלו דהכוונה שא"צ ליתן כלל למדרגה שאחר זה ולפ"ז הא הדבר ידוע שלכל עשיר יש הרבה קרובים עניים וכ"ש לבעה"ב שהצדקה שלו מועטת וא"כ לפ"ז אותם העניים שאין להם קרובים עשירים ימותו ברעב ואיך אפשר לומר כן. ולכן נלע"ד דבירור הדברים כך הם דבוודאי כל בע"ב או עשיר הנותן צדקה מחוייב ליתן חלק לעניים הרחוקים אלא דלקרוביו יתן יותר מלשאינו קרוביו וכן כולם כמדרגה זו. וגם בזה שכתבו דפרנסתו קודמת אם נאמר כפשוטו א"כ רובן של בעלי בתים פטורין מן הצדקה לגמרי לבד שלישית שקל בשנה וידוע דרוב ישראל הלואי שיספיק להם פרנסתם להוצאתם ולפ"ז יפטורו כולם מן הצדקה זולת עשירים גדולים ובמקומות שאין עשירים יגוועו העניים ברעב ואיך אפשר לומר כן וגם המנהג אינו כן:
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the core issue that troubles the author of this text?
2. In what way have you seen his conundrum play out in your own life?
3. What is your response to his answer?

(טז) לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

You shall not be a tale-bearer among your people; you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai. [translation by AJWS]

What does the use of the term "neighbor" imply? Elsewhere in Jewish law, our obligations are sometmes to our "brother" or to "the stranger who lives among us"- should this obligation draw distinctions based on social or geographic proximity?

The Torah uses a number of different "stock characters" to discuss various obligations: brother, neighbor, stranger. What might be the implications of using neighbor here?

(ד) אֶחָד הַגַּג וְאֶחָד כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ סַכָּנָה וְרָאוּי שֶׁיִּכָּשֵׁל בָּהּ אָדָם וְיָמוּת. כְּגוֹן שֶׁהָיְתָה לוֹ בְּאֵר אוֹ בּוֹר בַּחֲצֵרוֹ בֵּין שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ מַיִם בֵּין שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מַיִם חַיָּב לַעֲשׂוֹת חֻלְיָא גְּבוֹהָה עֲשָׂרָה טְפָחִים. אוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהּ כִּסּוּי כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִפּל בָּהּ אָדָם וְיָמוּת. וְכֵן כָּל מִכְשׁל שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ סַכָּנַת נְפָשׁוֹת מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לַהֲסִירוֹ וּלְהִשָּׁמֵר מִמֶּנּוּ וּלְהִזָּהֵר בַּדָּבָר יָפֶה יָפֶה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ד ט) "הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ". וְאִם לֹא הֵסִיר וְהֵנִיחַ הַמִּכְשׁוֹלוֹת הַמְּבִיאִין לִידֵי סַכָּנָה בִּטֵּל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה וְעָבַר בְּ(דברים כב ח) "לֹא תָשִׂים דָּמִים":

Both the roof and any other object of potential danger, by which it is likely that a person could be fatally injured, such a well or a pit on his property, whether or not there is water in it, require that the owner build a barrier at least ten handbreadths high or make a cover for it so that no one will fall in and die. And so regarding any situation which has mortal danger, one has a positive commandment to remove the danger and guard it and be very careful with it as it says, "Be careful" and "Guard your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:9) and if one does not remove it but leaves those obstacles allowing potential danger, one transgresses a positive commandment and negates a negative commandment “Thou shall not spill blood.” [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are dangers that we know about that we have not yet succeeding in protecting people from - domestically and internationally?

2. How can we do a better of job ensuring that people stop dying preventable deaths? 3. In what ways do we need government to help us with this?

Blu Greenberg, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., First Fireside, 1985), p. 117-118.

I believe that the purpose of kashrut is to make eating a special experience and to serve as a reminder of a Jew's ethical conscience as well as of the other unique teachings of Judaism. To me, distinctiveness and not separation is the Jew's calling. This feeling is possible in the presence of non-observant Jews and of non-Jews. The values of friendship, human solidarity, and socializing are highly esteemed Jewish values; making a living and exchanging professional service (sometimes performed over a meal) also are respected in Jewish culture. One of the great qualities of the Jewish tradition is its ability to balance contradictions- idealism and realism, Jewish particularism and unusual concern for humanity. Similarly, in the act of eating, one can strike that balance between fidelity to one's own principles and shared friendship and respectful contact with others.

Suggested Discussion Questions

Does this philosophy resonate with you? What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 76b
דתניא: השוכר את האומנין והטעו את בעל הבית, או בעל הבית הטעה אותן - אין להם זה על זה אלא תרעומת. במה דברים אמורים - שלא הלכו, אבל הלכו חמרים ולא מצאו תבואה, פועלין ומצאו שדה כשהיא לחה - נותן להן שכרן משלם,
As it has been taught: If someone hired artisans and they misled the employer, or the employer misled them, they have nothing but resentment against each other. In what case are these things said? When they [the workers] did not go [to work]. But if ass drivers went and did not find produce, or if workers went and found the field while it was waterlogged, the employer gives them their wages in full. [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Edited for gender neutrality]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what situations is the employer obligated to pay the workers if the job was not completed? Why?
2. What does this text teach us about the experience of the worker?

(ג) הַנּוֹדֵר צְדָקָה וְלֹא יָדַע כַּמָּה נָדַר יִתֵּן עַד שֶׁיֹּאמַר לֹא לְכָךְ נִתְכַּוַּנְתִּי:

You are commanded to give the poor person according to the poor person’s needs. If the poor has no clothing, the poor should be clothed. If the poor has no household furnishings, these should be bought for the poor. …As it is stated in Scripture, “You must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:8.) You are thus obligated to support the person’s needs; you are not, however, obligated to make the person wealthy.

Suggested Discussion Questions

What is this text saying?

How is “need” defined?

What does it mean to “lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.”?

How is “wealth” defined?

According to the text, who defines need/wealth?

Tosefta Brachot 4:4-5
הֵבִיאוּ לְפָנָיו מִינֵי תְרָגֵימָה מְבָרֵךְ עֲלֵיהֶן ''בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי כִּסָּנִי'', עַל הַזְּרָעִים הוּא אוֹמֵר ''בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי זְרָעִים'', וְעַל הַדְּשָׁאִים הוּא אוֹמֵר ''בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי דְשָׁאִים'', וְעַל הַיְּרָקוֹת הוּא אוֹמֵר ''בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה.'' רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר ''בָּרוּךְ מַצְמִּיחַ הָאֲדָמָה בּדְבָרוֹ.'' רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: אֲפִלּוּ רָאָה אֶת הַפַּת וְאוֹמֵר 'בָּרוּךְ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֶת הפַּת זוּ, כַמָּה הִיא נָאָה', זוּ בִרְכָּתָהּ. רָאָה אֵת הַתְּאֶנִים וְאָמַר ''בָּרוּךְ שֶׁבָּרָא אֶת הַתְּאֶנִים הַלְּלוּ, כַמָּה נָאִין הֵן'', זוּ בִרְכָּתָן. רַבִּי יוֹסִי אוֹמֵר: כּׂל הַמְשַׁנֵּה מִמַּטְבֵּעַ שֶׁטָּבְעוּ חֲכָמִים בִּבְרָכָה - לֹא יָצָא.
If they brought before one types of desserts, one recites over them the blessing, 'Creator of types of sweets;' over edible seeds one recites, 'Creator of types of seeds;' and over other herbs one recites, 'Creator of types of herbs;' and over greens one recites, 'Creator of the fruit of the ground.' Rabbi Judah says: [One recites,] 'Blessed are You Whose word the earth sprouts.' Rabbi Meir says: Even if one saw a loaf [of bread] and said, 'Blessed are You Who created this loaf, how nice it is,' that serves as its blessing. If one saw figs and said, 'Blessed are You Who created these figs, how nice they are," that serves as their blessing. Rabbi Yose says: Anyone who departs from the formula which the sages established for blessings has not fulfilled one's obligation. [translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the significance of the word "even" (afilu) in what Rabbi Meir is arguing? What can we infer about the previous formulations by contrast?
2. What does this discussion in the Tosefta show about the development of food brachot?
3. Do you agree with Rabbi Meir or Rabbi Yose?
4. If you regularly say brachot, how does this practice help you feel gratitude? If you don't normally say brachot, how do you feel when you do?

(יד) כָּל הַיָּכוֹל לְהַצִּיל וְלֹא הִצִּיל עוֹבֵר עַל (ויקרא יט טז) "לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ". וְכֵן הָרוֹאֶה אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ טוֹבֵעַ בַּיָּם. אוֹ לִסְטִים בָּאִים עָלָיו. אוֹ חַיָּה רָעָה בָּאָה עָלָיו. וְיָכוֹל לְהַצִּילוֹ הוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ. אוֹ שֶׁיִּשְׂכֹּר אֲחֵרִים לְהַצִּילוֹ וְלֹא הִצִּיל. אוֹ שֶׁשָּׁמַע עוֹבְדֵי כּוֹכָבִים אוֹ מוֹסְרִים מְחַשְּׁבִים עָלָיו רָעָה אוֹ טוֹמְנִין לוֹ פַּח וְלֹא גִּלָּה אֹזֶן חֲבֵרוֹ וְהוֹדִיעוֹ. אוֹ שֶׁיָּדַע בְּעַכּוּ''ם אוֹ בְּאוֹנֵס שֶׁהוּא בָּא עַל חֲבֵרוֹ וְיָכוֹל לְפַיְּסוֹ בִּגְלַל חֲבֵרוֹ לְהָסִיר מַה שֶּׁבְּלִבּוֹ וְלֹא פִּיְּסוֹ. וְכָל כַּיּוֹצֵא בִּדְבָרִים אֵלּוּ. הָעוֹשֶׂה אוֹתָם עוֹבֵר עַל לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ:

Whenever a person can save another person’s life but fails to do so, he transgresses a negative commandment, as Leviticus 19:16 states: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Similarly, [this commandment applies] when a person sees a colleague drowning at sea or being attacked by robbers or a wild animal, and he can save him himself or can hire others to save him and does not. Similarly, [it applies] when he hears [others] conspiring to harm a colleague or planning a snare for him, and he does not inform him and notify him [of the danger]. And similarly this is true if he knows of others scheming to harm a friend and can appease the conspirator and prevent him from carrying out the plot and does not, and all things in this vein, the one who does these things transgresses the commandment of "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." [AJWS translation]

Why does Rambam list so many examples? Do the individual examples have different connotations?

How do each of the examples listed by the Rambam shape the nature and extent of our obligation to save a life?

(ג) לְפִי מַה שֶּׁחָסֵר הֶעָנִי אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לִתֵּן לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּסוּת מְכַסִּים אוֹתוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּלֵי בַּיִת קוֹנִין לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתוֹ. וְאִם הָיְתָה אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתָהּ לְאִישׁ. אֲפִלּוּ הָיָה דַּרְכּוֹ שֶׁל זֶה הֶעָנִי לִרְכֹּב עַל הַסּוּס וְעֶבֶד רָץ לְפָנָיו וְהֶעֱנִי וְיָרַד מִנְּכָסָיו קוֹנִין לוֹ סוּס לִרְכֹּב עָלָיו וְעֶבֶד לָרוּץ לְפָנָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ח) "דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ". וּמְצֻוֶּה אַתָּה לְהַשְׁלִים חֶסְרוֹנוֹ וְאֵין אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לְעַשְּׁרוֹ:

You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them...You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why is this obligation necessary?

2. How do we determine the limit of "fulfilling all of their needs" without making them wealthy?

Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachot 7:5
רַבִּי בָּא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב חִיָיא בַּר אַבָּא: אָכַל מְהַלֵּך, עוֹמֵד וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל עוֹמֵד, יוֹשֵׁב וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל יוֹשֵׁב, מֵיסֵב וּמְבָרֵךְ. אָכַל מֵיסֵב, מִתְעַטֵּף וּמְבָרֵךְ. אִם עָשָׁה כֵן הֲרֵי הוּא כְּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת.
Rabbi Ba the son of Rav Hiyya bar Abba teaches: If he ate while walking, he must stand and bless. If he ate standing, he must sit and bless. If he ate sitting, he must recline [formally] and bless. If he ate reclining, he must enwrap himself and bless. And if he did this, he is like the angels who serve God.

Suggested Discussion Questions

What is the central point you think that Rabbi Ba is making? What might this mean in your life?

ת"ר בשלשה דברים גדולה גמילות חסדים יותר מן הצדקה צדקה בממונו גמילות חסדים בין בגופו בין בממונו צדקה לעניים גמילות חסדים בין לעניים בין לעשירים צדקה לחיים גמילות חסדים בין לחיים בין למתים

The Sages taught that acts of kindness are superior to charity in three respects: Charity can be performed only with one’s money, while acts of kindness can be performed both with his person and with his money. Charity is given to the poor, while acts of kindness are performed both for the poor and for the rich. Charity is given to the living, while acts of kindness are performed both for the living and for the dead.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways can acts of lovingkindness be done for the wealthy?

2. How can we add lovingkindness to our tzedakah?

3. How can we add lovingkindness to our foreign assistance policies? to our domestic policies?

Mishna Brachot 6:1
כיצד מברכין על הפירות על פירות האילן אומר בורא פרי העץ חוץ מן היין שעל היין אומר בורא פרי הגפן ועל פירות הארץ אומר בורא פרי האדמה חוץ מן הפת שעל הפת הוא אומר המוציא לחם מן הארץ ועל הירקות אומר בורא פרי האדמה רבי יהודה אומר בורא מיני דשאים:
How does one recite blessings for fruits? For fruits growing on a tree, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the tree," Except for wine; For wine, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the vine." For fruits growing from the earth, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the ground," Except for bread; For bread, one says, "...Who brings forth bread from the earth." For vegetables, one says, "...Who creates the fruit of the ground." Rabbi Yehudah says: One should say instead, "...Who creates various types of herbs." [Translation by Kayam Farms]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the effect of having specific categories for food blessings?
2. What do the different categories show about how the rabbis understood the natural world?
3. Why do you think these categories were chosen? Would you assign categories differently? Are there any missing, in your opinion?

Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 35a
תְּנוּ רַבָּנָן: אָסוּר לוֹ לְאָדָם שֶׁיֵּהָנֶה מִן הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה, וְכָל הַנֶּהֱנֶה מִן הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה - מָעַל. מַאי תַּקַּנְתֵּיהּ - יֵלֵךְ אֵצֶל חָכָם. יֵלֵךְ אֵצֶל חָכָם - מַאי עָבִיד לֵיהּ?! הָא עָבִיד לֵיהּ אִסּוּרָא! אֶלָּא אָמַר רָבָא: יֵלֵךְ אֵצֶל חָכָם מֵעִיקָרָא וִילַמְּדֶנּוּ בְּרָכוֹת, כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יָבֹא לִידֵי מְעִילָה.
Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a person to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing, that person commits sacrilege. What is the remedy? They should consult a wise person. But what will the wise person do? The person has already committed the offence! Raba said: What this means is that one should consult a wise person beforehand, so that the wise person would teach them blessings, so that they should not commit sacrilege. [translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. The word "me'ilah" refers to the sin of using something holy for personal benefit. Standing in the shade of the Temple on a hot day was a me'ilah, as was eating food that had already been offered on the alter. What do you think of this idea?
2. Which sets of wise people might you consult in order to learn how to eat healthily and responsibly?

Abe Rosenthal, Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case (California, Univ of California Press 1964), pp. xxvii-xxix
In the middle of a cold night, thirty-eight people refused the risk of being stabbed or getting involved by answering a cry for help of a person they could not see. Is that a greater mystery, a greater offense, than that by light of day thousands on a single street withhold help to suffering people, when it would cost them virtually nothing and put them in no peril, even though they see their faces and sores? Are the people who turned away that one night in Queens, each in a separate decision, any more immoral or indecent or cowardly because there happened to be thirty-eight, than if there were just one of them? Does God judge by the individual or by head count? And what if we hear the scream but cannot see the screamer? Of all questions about silent witnesses, to me this is the most important. Suppose the screamer is not downstairs but around the corner. Surely somebody else is closer, so we don't have to run out, do we? What is the accepted distance for hearing but not moving—two flights down, five, one block, two blocks, three? Suppose you know people are screaming under persecution—not discrimination but persecution, as in imprisonment, torture, genocide, forced starvation—for their race or their religion. You have seen the pictures of African children with their bellies distended: our own government, even this government, defines this as a genocide. You know they scream, but they are not within sight and you cannot reach out and touch them, nor are you allowed to visit them. But the screams are piercing. How far away do you have to be to forgive yourself for not doing whatever is in your power to do: stop doing business with the torturer, or just speak up for them, write a letter, join a human rights group, go to shul and pray for the rescue of the persecuted and the damnation of the persecutors, give money, do something. Three stories up, a thousand miles, ten thousand miles, from here to Queens, or from here to Sudan and Chad for victims of genocide anywhere? How far is silence from a place of safety acceptable without detesting yourself as we detest the thirty-eight? Tell me, is there any question more important than this?
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the phenomenon that the author of this text is criticizing?
2. What is he asking of us? Does it seem reasonable to you?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Genesis 9:1-3
וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת נֹחַ וְאֶת בָּנָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ: וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם יִהְיֶה עַל כָּל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וְעַל כָּל עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל דְּגֵי הַיָּם בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ: כָּל רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כֹּל:
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And your fear and your dread shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the fowl of the heaven; upon everything that creeps upon the ground and upon all the fish of the sea, [for] they have been given into your hand[s]. Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything. [Chabad Online Translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

What commandments are included in this text?
What is Noah and the people of his time allowed to eat that those prohibited for those before them?
Why might this change in what humans are allowed to eat have happened after the story of Noah and the Flood?

Genesis 9:3-4
ג) כָּל רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כֹּל: ד) אַךְ בָּשָׂר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ:
3 Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. 4 You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. [JPS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this verse permit us to do? How does it restrict our consumption?
2. Why do you think Noah and future generations were allowed to eat meat?

Deuteronomy 15: 7-11
כִּי יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן: כִּי פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל לֵאמֹר קָרְבָה שְׁנַת הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ וְקָרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל יְקֹוָק וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא: נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ וְלֹא יֵרַע לְבָבְךָ בְּתִתְּךָ לוֹ כִּי בִּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֶׂךָ וּבְכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ: (יא) כִּי לֹא יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ: ס
If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. Beware lest you harbor the base thought, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching," so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. He will cry out ot the Lord against you, and you will incur no guilt. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. [JPS]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1) How do you think G-d might ‘bless people in their work’ for giving to the poor?
2) Traditional Jews believe that all texts appear in the bible for a reason. If so, why are we told, “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land?”
3) Do you believe that we can ever overcome human needs? If not, then what is the point in working on it?

Tosefta Brachot 4:1
לא יטעום אדם כלום עד שיברך שנ' לה' הארץ ומלואה הנהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה מעל עד שיתירו לו כל המצות לא ישתמש אדם בפניו בידיו וברגליו אלא לכבוד קונהו שנ' כל פעל ה' למענהו
A person should not taste anything before blessing, as it says “To God is the land, and God fills it.” One who benefits from this world without blessing has stolen from God, until [one performs] all the commandments which permit the food to that person. A person should only use their face, hands, and feet for the honor of the Creator, as it says, “All acts of God are for God’s sake.” [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Edited for gender neutrality]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why do we steal from God if we eat before blessing?
2. Why do we say a blessing over our food?
3. Who ultimately owns our food and land? How does this affect our understanding of property and ownership?