Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Noticing People

From a work in progress...

The blogger Rabbi Avinoam Sharon notes that, with a moment or two, he can name all twelve of Jacob’s sons from memory. But only recently did he noticed twelve women at the beginning of Exodus, a chapter which primarily concerns Moses. The twelve women are: Shiphrah and Puah (Ex. 1:15), Pharoah’s daughter (Ex. 2:3), Miriam (unnamed in Ex. 2:4, 7-8 and named in Ex. 15:20), Jochebed (unnamed in Ex. 2:1-2 and named in Ex. 6:20), Zippora (Ex. 2:21), and her father Reuel’s other six daughters (Ex. 2:15).

Rabbi Sharon comments that we tend not to notice one another in our everyday life, too. Moses, on the other hand, noticed the suffering of the Hebrew slave, and the injustice of the shepherds at the well (Ex. 1:1-12, 17) (note 1 below).

A couple years ago I noticed an obituary in the newspaper. Akron is sufficiently small that you sometimes encounter people you know, but unlike my small hometown in Illinois, you by no means "know everyone." The obituary was a man who worked at a grocery store where I shop; he collected shopping carts and did other such jobs. He wasn’t very old when he died. I never spoke to him besides a hello.

How many people do I pass each day who are just “hello” people? I’m certainly a nameless, “hello” person, too, for instance to the folks who work at my local grocery.

In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind, and much of the chapter concerns the man and the religious leaders who can't believe he was healed. But have you ever noticed the crowd’s reaction to the healed man? “‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘It is he’; other said, ‘No, but he is like him.’” (John 9:8-9). People had seen the man every day as a beggar. But even granting that miracles elicit incredulity, some of the people had not, apparently, paid enough attention to him to know exactly who he was. (See a like story in Acts 3: the man born lame needs help, but apparently he is accustomed to no one making eye contact with him, for Peter and John told him, “Look at us.”)

I think that Bible study should lead us to notice one another and to care about each other's pain. If Bible study isn't helping us grow in compassion and empathy, we're missing an important purpose of that study. Instead of avoiding certain people or relating to them very casually, we can look at them, make human contact with them, and perhaps even learn their needs.

1. See Rabbi Sharon’s blog for January 2, 2005, at http://www.moreshetyisrael.org/search?updated-min=2005-01-01T00%3A00%3A00%2B03%3A00&updated-max=2006-01-01T00%3A00%3A00%2B03%3A00&max-results=31

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