Shemot and the world around us

January 15, 2020 by Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann
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In the midst of World War II whilst stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara defied orders and distributed an estimated 6,000 visas to Jewish refugees, ensuring their escape and survival from Europe.

Rabbi Gabi Kaltman

Not only was this act taken at great personal risk but also a highly unusual dissidence against the strict Japanese civic and diplomatic code. When asked years later why he risked both his life and career for these unknown refugees, Sugihara simply responded:

“It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. One just cannot help but sympathize with them….I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do.”

What Sugihara alludes to is fundamentally correct. Despite there being an endless number of races, beliefs and nations making up the human race, when confronted with the suffering of another it is only basic nature for one to be stirred and aroused. However, what truly divides the ‘righteous amongst the nations’ to the remainder of the population, is their ability to act on these emotions no matter the consequences.

Take in this week’s Parsha of Shemot the tale of Batya, daughter of Pharaoh. Upon the advice of his soothsayers and astrologers Pharaoh had begun a merciless campaign of genocide against the Jewish male population, believing that amongst them was to be born the future redeemer of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt. Batya, having witnessed a Hebrew baby floating in a basket on the banks of the Nile, not only retrieved and saved this baby but provided him with a home and raised him amongst the other princess in Pharaoh’s palace.

Chiyune Sugihara

Through this story the Torah not only depicts the heroism of Batya but the great lengths that one’s kindness and benevolence should go in assisting the less fortunate. Despite the ongoing persecution and racial divide between the Hebrews and Egyptians, Batya was yet still able to recognise the humanity in the baby Moses, ultimately assisting and saving him in the child’s desperate time of need.

No better has this humane comradery and understanding between all peoples been expressed than in the past couple of weeks in Australia. Legitimately all forms of individuals and communities nation-wide have banded together to assist the victims of the current horrendous bushfires. This nation-wide outpour of generosity and charity has even caused state governments to announce that it can no longer accept donations of clothes and food because relief warehouses are already overstocked!

In the past few weeks Australia has experienced more than mere amicable deeds of kindness by strangers, but rather a nation-wide expression and fulfilment of ‘mateship’ – the uniquely special fraternity that exists between all Australians, regardless of background.

This vast public outpouring of unity between Australians is also emotive of the ‘Burning Bush’ which is also mentioned in this week’s Parsha. Through G-d showing Moses a visage of a bush being engulfed in flames but not being consumed, He alluded to him that the resilience and determination of Jewish people remains intact despite their enslavement for hundreds of years. So too now in Australia, despite the nationwide suffering, agricultural damage and grieve – we remain as strong and united as ever.


3 Responses to “Shemot and the world around us”
  1. Jerry Snell says:

    Mr.Sugihara was a man of compassion when there was very little compassion. He did it for the sake of the MITZVAH, as we Jews say. I heard his son speak in Newport, Rhode Island many years ago. One could see that he was his father’s son. I heard a former Rabbi from Japan speak in Boston,Massachusetts and he mentioned the reason that the elder Sugihara was stationed in Lithuania.
    Japan feared that someday , Germany would turn on Japan as they did on other peoples they thought were not up to being human. Thank G-d that Japan mistrusted Hitler and Sugihara saved many Jews.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    Actually he gave visas to German citizens who were allies of Japan. They just happened to be Jewish escaping Germany though. In occupied China the Japanese offered them sanctuary while slaughtering thousands of Chinese citizens.

    • Mark Jacobi says:

      @Adrian Jackson that’s factually incorrect. The vast majority of Sugihara’s refugees were Polish or Lithuanian. Arguably the most famous recipients were the students of Mir Yeshiva which is now located in Belarus but was part of the Polish Republic.

      Also its subversive to imply that Sugihara’s help was only given because they were ‘German’. Even though Japan was allies with the Nazis it is well known and documented their refusal to confine Jews in concentration camps or kill them despite the great pressure exerted by Nazi Germany.

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