How well do you know your neighbors? One of the most common comments about society today is how much more isolated people are from one another than they were in the days of a more agricultural society. Whether this is true or not, it can be agreed that our ways of connecting and communicating are different from how they were in the past. Nevertheless, the words of Jossie ben Jochanan reminds us all of the importance of social interaction in bettering the world:

“Jossie ben Jochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be members of your household” (Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 1:5).

This does not mean that one should leave one’s doors unlocked and invite in every vagrant who passes, but rather promotes the helpful attitude that one should have toward  others. The current temperament of society leans toward protectiveness and security, and sadly there is good reason for that. However, building a community requires that people reach out to each other, both to ask when in need and to give — even when not asked.

The idea of letting the poor be like members of one’s household has within it a warning against viewing oneself as better than the people one is helping. When a child is in need of help, help is usually given without hesitation or condescension. This should be how people help those outside their own families as well.

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