2.2 million dollars. 4 days. 23,000 donors. One little girl. The story of two year old Eliana Cohen has gone viral. She was born with SMA Type 2, a rare genetic condition that prevents her from being able to stand or walk. A gene therapy was recently developed, called Zolgensma, which creates a gene that ensures she is able to breathe, eat and sit up on her own. At 2.2 million dollars for a single dose, it is the most expensive drug in the world. It was approved by the FDA only for babies under the age of 2 years. Due to a misdiagnosis at an early age, Eliana’s SMA Type 2 was only detected a month ago. Eliana was five days away from her second birthday when a crowdfunding campaign began.
Within four days, 23,000 people had donated to the cause on the fundraising platform The Chesed Fund. At noon this past Monday, the goal was reached and the campaign was closed. In their thank you letter, her parents wrote, “Please continue to pray for Chana bat Shani (her name has been changed), as we still have a long way to go!”
This story reminds us of the very best elements of Jewish community. Many of those who donated did not know this little girl. They heard about this cause through “a friend of a friend” and the tight-knit nature of the Jewish community provided incredible results. This inspiring episode caused me to reevaluate one of Bilaam’s blessing in this morning’s Parsha.
In our Parsha, King Balak hired the great sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jewish People. As hard as he tries, Hashem does not allow this to happen. Not only is Bilaam unable to curse them, but Hashem forces Bilaam to utter blessings about Bnei Yisrael- three times. In his first set of blessings Bilaam refers to the Jewish People as (23:9) “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” Dwelling alone can seem lonely at times. But it has been the secret of our success and our continuity. The Jewish People have been unwilling to change our morals and values based on the current era or location. We turn to the Torah as our guide, even when it makes us unpopular or counter-cultural. We are a Light onto the Nations by wearing our distinctions as a badge of pride. As the nation who dwells alone we realize that we cannot rely on others for our survival. Rather we must rely on Hashem – and each other. This is why there are no “degrees of separation” between Jews. We are all family, whether we know each other or not.
I was recently learning with someone about the restriction of charging interest. I asked why interest should be forbidden: If we are allowed to rent our car for money and rent our house for money, then why can’t we rent our money for money? The answer we came to is that fundamentally I’m right. One should be able to rent their money for a profit. And in fact, you are allowed to charge a non-Jew interest (if charging interest was immoral we would not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews.) But that’s not how you treat family. And all of Klal Yisrael is family. Let us remember this reality, as we begin the Three Weeks period on the Jewish calendar, and as we constantly work on fostering a culture of caring within our community.