Each month at the J we have a Jewish value that we focus on — this is for all of us from preschool to campers to adults. This month the Early Childhood Department is learning about “Achrayut/Responsibility” and it will be an important value for camp as well.
When talking with children, we talk about taking responsibility for mistakes, to make them right. Also, being responsible for keeping hands to yourself and be careful with your words which can be hurtful. And, of course, we talk about being responsible for your belongings and for the environment.
These are hopefully skills we learn in childhood and take with us.
However, the word “achrayut” which is usually translated as responsibility has deeper meanings in the Jewish world. The word “responsibility” is about respond or answering for your decisions and actions. Achrayut comes from the Hebrew word “acher,” meaning “other”. It is about our moral commitment to the other person, not just to answer for your actions but to make the other’s needs your own.
As we grow up we learn that if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one else will, yet we also owe something to others. Hillel said it best and we are still quoting him: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” It is the balance of being responsible for yourself and then for others that is often a challenge in daily life. Hillel also said: “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” That is often restated in many ways but try this way of reading this important Mishnah: “In a place where there aren’t people of moral courage taking responsibility, one needs to step up.” The challenge of stepping up when no one else will is something that sometimes happens because of the situation we are in. We teach responsibility and model it (the best way to teach) hoping and believing that the day will come when our children may be asked to step up and we hope they will.
Viktor Frankl once said: “Being human means being conscious and being responsible. By becoming responsible agents for social change we actualize not only our humanity but also our mission as Jews.”
The “big” moments don’t always happen but who we are is demonstrated in the small acts. Back during football season, a video went viral of Dak Prescott throwing away a piece of trash missing the can and getting up to retrieve it and put it in the trash can. Perhaps more than anything he did before or after really showed who he was! Let us take responsibility — cultivate the value of achrayut in all the little ways so that when the big moment comes, there is not a question of how to act.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.