Dear Readers,

A friend of mine is a cancer survivor. Generally, she’s upbeat, positive, grateful and hopeful about her long-term recovery. But every once in a while, she vents about some of the stupid things people say to her.

When bumping into her at Walmart, one individual told her: “Oy, I just can’t imagine it happening to me!”

“What does this person think?” my friend asks me. “That I thought it would happen to me? Does she think that I conjured up this nightmare in my imagination and that if she murmurs, ‘I can’t imagine’ enough times, it will keep her on the safe side of the divide?!”

My friend’s pain made me reflect on our hurtful behavior.

Whether a physical or mental ailment, a disability, divorce or financial disaster—and any other kind of unfortunate circumstance—don’t we often try to construct our own “divide”? Subconsciously, we try to convince ourselves that if we remain on our side of the wall, we’ll be safe from this painful situation happening? We create a mode of “us” and “them” with the delusional thoughts that if we can somehow “justify” what happened to them, then that will make us safe from suffering such misfortune.

In truth, none of us are masters over our circumstances. We don’t sit in the driver seat to determine where or how our lives will be steered. We are not in control of our destiny.

What we are in control of is how we react to our situations—what we allow ourselves to become as the paths of our lives unfold.

And part of that choice is how we relate to those around us. We can choose to build walls of separation that provide a false sense of security to barricade ourselves from another’s “contagious” misfortune. Or we can choose to be there for others, just as we would want them to be there for us.

This week begins the “Three Weeks,” the annual period of mourning the destruction of the Holy Temple and our ongoing exile. It begins on the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, a fast day that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE.

The second Temple was destroyed because Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other. Rather than feeling and acting like a united people, they chose to see separations. We remain in exile today because we need to learn how to foster baseless love.

We can help correct that by breaking down the barriers that divide us, including those barriers we create to judge, feel superior or act callously towards others. Instead, let’s build a shelter of protection that surrounds those who are going through tough times, encircling them with love, empathy and practical assistance.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW