By Rabbi Idan Scher, Congregation Machzikei Hadas
Sometimes you read a story and it seems so simple. But on reflection, you realize how powerful it actually is. That happened to me when I read this little fable:
There was once an old farmer living on his farm with his animals. One day, a mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.
Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning to all of his fellow animals. “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”
The chicken heard the mouse’s warning, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is of grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. A mousetrap won’t trap me. I cannot be bothered by it.”
The mouse turned to the sheep and told him, “There is a mousetrap in the house.”
The sheep sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray for you. Be assured you are in my prayers. But honestly, I am little affected by it.”
The mouse turned to the cow and pleaded for help. She said, “Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, trust me you will be in my thoughts and prayers.”
So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.
That very night a sound was heard throughout the house – like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.
The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.
Now of course, hot chicken soup is the best medicine for a fever. So the farmer walked off to the farmyard to fetch the soup’s main ingredient.
But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbours came to sit with her around the clock. To feed all of the visitors, the farmer slaughtered the sheep.
The farmer’s wife did not get well and she passed away. So many people came for her funeral the farmer had to have the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.
We pray every day. And on the High Holy Days, which are soon upon us, we pray even more. And so many of our prayers are not said in the singular only for ourselves. Rather, they are said in the plural, for all of humanity.
But as we pray, and as we pledge allegiance to this holy endeavour of caring about others, it cannot be just lip service – “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” Radical and active empathy is called for, just as if we or someone very close to us was suffering. This story warns us that if we don’t take this seriously then we ourselves may eventually be struck, because we are all in this together. But more importantly, as much as we may try to convince ourselves otherwise, if we truly cared about our fellow human beings we would respond to their suffering just as we would respond to the suffering of someone who we are very close with.
This High Holy Day season is the time to open our hearts and to truly be there for those that so badly need it.