Lo Taamod - You Shall Not Stand Idly By

J-Teen Leadership Fall Retreat 2013

"Lo Ta'amod- Don't Stand Idly by"

This one passage from Leviticus has inspired thousands of years of commentary and interpretation of the responsibilities and obligations contained withiof this powerful biblical commandment. What questions do these sources raise for you about our theme for the year? How do they relate to your understanding of not standing idly by?

(יט) פִּתְחוּ־לִ֥י שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק אָֽבֹא־בָ֝ם אוֹדֶ֥ה יָֽהּ׃ (כ) זֶֽה־הַשַּׁ֥עַר לַיהוָ֑ה צַ֝דִּיקִ֗ים יָבֹ֥אוּ בֽוֹ׃

Open the gates of justice for me that I may enter them and praise God. This is the gateway to God -- the just shall enter through it. [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the gates of justice?

2. Why are the just allowed to enter the gates to praise God?

3. Does acting in a just manner make you closer to God? Why or why not?

Abraham Joshua Heschel, "A Prayer for Peace," 1971 from Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996), P. 231

O Lord, we confess our sins, we are ashamed of the inadequacy of our anguish, of how faint and slight is our mercy. We are a generation that has lost its capacity for outrage. We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible. .... Suggested Discussion Questions 1. In what ways have we lost our capacity for outrage? 2. How are we responsible, as Heschel asserts? 3. What kind of mercy would Heschel like to see?

Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Pain of Others" (New York: Picador, 2003)

So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent — if not an inappropriate — response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a consideration of how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may — in ways that we prefer not to imagine — be linked to their suffering, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only the initial spark.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what way is our affluence on the same map as the destitution of others?

2. We did not create this system, nor are we at fault for it. Nonetheless, it exists. How can we best respond to it?

(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]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, one can hire others to save someone. In our contemporary context, who can we hire to save the thousands of lives lost daily?

2. We know that it is common practice for corporations to undermine labor and health regulations. How can we help those being hurt? How can we stop these practices from happening?

מניין לרואה את חבירו שהוא טובע בנהר או חיה גוררתו או לסטין באין עליו שהוא חייב להצילו ת"ל לא תעמוד על דם רעך.

How do we know that if a person sees another person drowning, mauled by beasts, or attacked by robbers, s/he is bound to save him? From the verse, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor!” (Leviticus 19:16). [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are some ways to help people today that are targeted by violence?

2. What are some ways to help those who are kept poor by a trading and market system that benefits from their poverty?

3. What is the opposite of standing idly by? Does the directive here come with a measurable level of success?

(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]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to "stand idly by"? What if you are not in a position to directly save the life?

2. Who is the "neighbor" the Torah is talking about?

3. What if it seems like there is nothing you can do?