Let None Be Left Behind

Posted on March 3, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

Have you ever been left out or left behind? I’m sure all of us have had such an experience — of not being included in the game or picked for the team, not being able to keep up with a lesson in class, or being left out of a circle of friends. Do you remember how it felt? It’s pretty awful, isn’t it? It hurts to be left out. It feels unfair and unjust. And it hurts to go unnoticed. It makes you feel less than.

In a special Torah reading for this Shabbat, we learn about a terrible example of people being left behind. It happened when our people were in the wilderness, on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. We were tired and worn out from the journey, some more than others. And so, some fell behind, especially the elderly and the weak. At that moment, we were attacked from behind by Amalek, who cut down all the stragglers — all those who were struggling to keep up, those who had been left behind.

We read this story on this Shabbat before Purim to remember both the evil of Amalek and the mitzvah of standing up against evil in all its forms. For when we fail to do so, terrible things can and do happen. Haman, we are told, was a descendant of Amalek.

But there is another reason we read this story before Purim, and that is to remind us that no one should ever be left out or left behind. For, you see, Amalek would not have been able to prey upon the weak had they been cared for and not left behind. The tragedy of Amalek could have been prevented. It didn’t need to happen. And so it is with so much of the suffering in our world. We have the ability to provide for the poor. To care for the elderly. To make sure that every child has enough to eat, clean water to drink, a home to live in, and a school where they can learn and grow to their full potential.

I’d like to share with you a true story about what it can look and feel like when we act this way — when we make sure that no one is left out or left behind.

One afternoon, Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys whom Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?” Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father also understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.

Shaya’s father approached one of the boys and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”

Shaya’s father was ecstatic and Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth, Shaya’s team scored again, and now, with two outs and the bases loaded… Shaya was up. Would the team let him bat and give up their chance to win the game?

Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that a win was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.

However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came, and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the ball and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to first base. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.

Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first, run to first!” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to second base, and Shaya would have been tagged out.

But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over third base. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second!” Shaya ran toward second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third!” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya, run home!” Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.

The wonderful truth of this story is that everyone won that day. Both teams won. Shaya won by being made to feel valued, capable, and joyful because he was included. And the whole world won because it grew in the goodness that God intends for us all.

Maybe the most valuable lesson we learn from Purim is that human beings can change the world for the better. Each of us has great power to make a difference. And when we use that power to stand for one another – to make sure that no one is ever left out or left behind – we repair the world.

Shabbat shalom and chag Purim sameach!

Rabbi Arnie Gluck