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The Bystander Effect


B”H our Chanukah party on Saturday night was very successful. Relive the fun with these pictures

As I read through this week’s parasha, it occurred to me that a comparison can be made between the United States’ support for Israel and the behavior of Yehuda.

First a little background.

In the 1960’s, a phenomenon known as the bystander effect was discovered. This means that people are more likely to help someone in distress when the potential helper is alone, rather than in a group. The larger the group, the less likely it is that an individual will help. Potential helpers tend to assume that someone else will help and there is no need to intervene.

Perhaps the bystander effect can provide an insight into Parashat Miketz. After an unsuccessful attempt by Reuven to convince Yaakov to allow Binyamin to go down to Mitzrayim, Yehuda offers a different approach. Yehuda was going to be the guarantor on the “loan” of Binyamin. 

This, however, raises the obvious question - how can Yehuda be a guarantor? He is the borrower! 

An answer to this could be - true, Yehuda was the borrower, but he was one borrower among a group of ten. Yaakov was concerned that the bystander effect would kick in, if they would run into some trouble, and each of the brothers would have a different excuse why they couldn’t help Binyamin. Yehuda declared that he is ultimately responsible for whatever happens to Binyamin and that there will be no bystander effect.

For years, Israel has been the victim of attacks at the UN. Most countries, even our allies, have employed the bystander effect to shirk responsibility, and it was usually the U.S. who served as our “guarantor.”

Last Friday the United States did it again, when it vetoed a United Nations resolution backed by almost all other Security Council members and dozens of other nations demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. The vote in the fifteen member council was 13-1, with the United Kingdom abstaining.

Why didn’t the U.S. support the resolution? Deputy ambassador Robert Wood called the resolution “imbalanced” and criticized the council after the vote for its failure to condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel or to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself. He declared that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war.” “Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution,”. “For that reason, while the United States strongly supports a durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate cease-fire.”

Although Israel is determined to do what it needs to in order to vanquish Hamas, not having to deal with being in violation of a security council resolution makes life easier.