Daf Yomi At Beren: The Importance of Empathy

By: Shayna Herszage  |  May 12, 2020

By Shayna Herszage, Opinion Editor

Plenty of modern proverbs convey an attitude of apathy toward the needs of others: “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” and “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.” These platitudes spread the philosophy that the world is unkind, and that there is no reason to look out for the needs of others when we are all trying to scrape by in our own lives.

However, in Masekhet Shabbat, we learn that the Talmud holds by a very different philosophy. In Shabbat 35b, the rabbis discuss the six shofar blasts that sounded through the cities on Friday afternoon when the time to light Shabbat candles was approaching. The sugya continues to state:

The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught in greater detail: Six blasts are sounded on Shabbat eve. When one begins sounding the first tekia, the people standing and working in the fields refrained from hoeing, and from plowing and from performing all labor in the fields. And those workers who work close to the city are not permitted to enter the city until those who work farther away come, so that they will all enter together.

While many of the workers lived near the city and could easily stop work and enter the city to get ready for Shabbat almost immediately after the first sounding, they instead were told to stay outside the city until the worker who worked farthest away had reached the city limits, so the workers could all enter together.

In a world that is often far from easy, the Talmud shows that solidarity, rather than apathy, is of utmost importance. While it would be much easier for the workers nearer to the city to enter the city immediately after the first sounding in order to get a headstart on their Shabbat preparations, it is understood that the right thing to do is to stand with the community and enter in unison — even if that leads to some inconvenience.

One interpretation of this sugya is that of Rashi, who explains that the workers nearer to the city were instructed to wait so that people would not see the workers from farther away arriving later and infer that they had continued working after the first sounding of the shofar. Instead of going home as quickly as possible, the workers near the city opted to prevent damaging the reputations of the workers who lived farther from the city. In the face of the time-sensitive pre-Shabbat rush, the workers were attentive to the needs of their peers .

This sugya’s emphasis on unity, solidarity, and watching over the needs of others is highly relevant in the current state of the world. In a time when everyone is under a blanket of stress, it is easy to disregard others in ways such as protesting lock-downs, being rude to essential workers, and ignoring the physical or emotional needs of people in our communities. However, we must understand that our needs exist along with those of the people around us. It is important that we comply with lock-down restrictions even though we want haircuts, we are kind to essential workers even though we are feeling irritable, we wear masks even though they are uncomfortable, and we attempt to check in on our friends’ emotional well-beings even though we ourselves are under immense stress.

Rather than giving into apathy in a world that does not always go as planned, this sugya shows us that even when we are in a rush or under stress, we should be considerate of those around us to the best of our abilities. Even if it is a dog-eat-dog world, the cycle can still break and give way to unity.