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Lonely in a Crowd

Lonely in a Crowd

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You can spend hours every day on social media, and have no real friends.

A radio chatters aimlessly in the background, but you don’t listen, because you’ve got no one with whom to share the news.

The girl behind the counter asked, “How are you today?” but you know that she didn’t really want an answer.

As you walk through the streets you keep your eyes focused on the phone in your palm, because there is no one walking by your side.

All around you there can be a buzz of conversation but nobody is talking directly to you.

As you lie down in your lonely bed, you wonder to yourself, if you died in the night how long would it take till you were missed?

The Pain of Loneliness

Oh, how does sit solitary, the city that was once so populous? (beginning of the book of Eicha - Lamentations).

At this time of year we commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. We gather in synagogues to lament and twice we refrain from eating in mourning. We describe the beauty of the city and the tragedy that happened to its inhabitants; the Romans murdered the majority and exiled or enslaved most of the rest. The Jewish population of Israel remained miniscule for the next 1800 years, leaving Jerusalem, the city of our dreams, as a pitiful remnant of a once great city.

Last week a few of us were learning the section of the Talmud that describes in somewhat hyperbolic terms the population of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities prior to the Roman invasion. While one has the right to question the seemingly exaggerated numbers presented, clearly Jerusalem was once a metropolis teeming with inhabitants.

What happened? What went wrong? Why would G‑d have allowed His heavenly city to be destroyed and allowed so many innocents to be slaughtered?

Obviously there is no simple answer and no easy justifications. This was not the first, nor the last holocaust in our history. The Talmud, however, posits that the ultimate underlying cause of the devastation that time was the internecine conflict and the general lack of love and respect that locals demonstrated to each other.

This is generally understood to mean that people did not get on and thus society did not function. They had split themselves into a variety of social groupings, and could not or would accept others who thought or acted differently than they. From the lack of cooperation came conflict and distrust and this left them vulnerable to the ravages of an external enemy.

However an alternative reading of the first verse of Eicha might suggest another cause for the destruction: Instead of reading the verse Oh, how does sit solitary, the city that was once so populous, the verse could perhaps be referencing the fact that in a city that was teeming with people, some people sat in solitude.

A society where people are lonely in a crowd; isolated in public, cannot survive for long. A civilization that allows its elderly to stagnate in public housing and abandons them to the sterile surrounds of unvisited nursing homes has no future. How is it possible that in a city of millions, so many live solitary lives of lonely desperation?

Everyone agrees in theory, but loneliness still reigns in practice. The challenge to every one of us is to stop thinking in societal terms and to start acting in person. It’s too easy to believe that ‘someone should do something’ or wait for the social services to solve the problem bureaucratically, but when was the last time you struck up conversation with a stranger or invited someone new to your Shabbat meal?

As we mourn the destruction of a once proud civilization and resolve that our mitzvahs and actions will rebuild Jerusalem, look around and think of a few people who would appreciate a visit or a friendly call and do everything you personally can to make sure that no one will be left sitting alone.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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Anonymous January 27, 2015

Re: To simple! I think that the author's point was that indeed, it is a lonely world, however, don't just sit around for "someone else" to make first contact and build the friendship, you should try and do so yourself. However, yes, if there is someone with whom being friends with will be detrimental and have negative consequences, then you should indeed think twice before getting too close. Reply

Michael January 25, 2015

To simple! This article makes it seem so easy, but it really is not. Sometimes people suffer in isolation, because of past sins. They must pay their debt, and their is nothing they can do about it. In any case, talking to people is no where as near as simple as this article makes it appear. Talking to someone about small things that do not really matter might be easy- though it is extremely boring. However, finding someone, with whom to spend the rest of your life, to talk about important things in life is very difficult to do- especially in this corrupt age of hyper-individualism. Let us just face reality: Some people are just destined to live and die alone! If society gives me only two options of either friends with sex, drugs and other sins or lonely isolation with spiritual purity, then what am I supposed to choose? I am not going to risk my soul for temporary satisfaction. Even the pretended moralists are all corrupt sinners. Men are totally wicked, but this article puts so much faith in them Reply