The War Between Love & Prudence

Image: Two fire engines at the fire at Alco Iron & Metal Co. in San Leandro, CA. (Photo by Alameda Co Fire Dept, via Notice the thick smoke.

Love the stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19

I participate in a local social media site called At its best, NextDoor is a way to share information and to make connections nearby, a rare and wonderful thing in this age of the World Wide Web. Like all social media, it has limitations, but it has great potential for good.

This past week I heard on the radio that there was a fire at a local salvage facility, Alco Iron & Metals. I was familiar with the business; I’d gone there a few times with my son, an artist who works in metals. I remembered it as a barely controlled chaos of all kinds of scrap metal and materials. A fire there had terrible potential.

I looked down the hill, and sure enough, a huge plume of smoke rose from the site. The wind was blowing south, not towards me. The radio warned local residents to shelter indoors and to keep pets inside, because the smoke was bad for people.

No kidding, I thought, thinking of the people downwind of the fire, choking on the burnt effluvia of the stuff I’d seen stacked at Alco. Most of it was metal, but metal is often painted or coated, or connected to plastic. Had I been downwind of that fire, I’d have flung my dogs in the car and gone seeking shelter away from the smoke.

A little later I checked in to the NextDoor site and saw that one of my neighbors had put out the welcome mat for anyone in the line of the smoke to come to her house to breathe clean air. I was dazzled by her hospitality – all she asked was for people to contact her privately and she’d send them her address!

I thought, “I should do that, too.” And then I hesitated. Thoughts flooded in: I did not know who might respond. I thought about all the times I have been warned against letting strangers in my home. I thought about the many times in Torah I am commanded to love the stranger.

I decided not to place a general invitation to my house. Instead, I thanked the other woman for her generosity.

I’m not happy with my response. This is not the person I strive to be.

I need to think through how I want to deal with people I don’t yet know in a time of trouble. I want to talk with the neighbor who opened her door. I want to think of more and better options for myself the next time something like this happens.

I know from my training that there are usually more than two possible responses to any situation. In this case, all I could think of was “open invitation” and “no open invitation.” I’m going to keep looking until I create a better menu for myself, so that when people are hurting nearby, I can respond more compassionately.

Have you ever faced a situation in which your desire to do the right thing and your fears were in conflict? How did you choose? How did you feel about your choice? In the aftermath, did you do any planning about future events?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

7 thoughts on “The War Between Love & Prudence”

  1. Rabbi, this is a perfect question and I struggle the same way you do. I look for examples of people who can be supportive in helpful ways that might be in the middle ground between all and nothing. A good recent example: we went to an outdoor taco stand with two small children in a busy neighborhood. A 60-ish guy in somewhat shabby clothes was dancing around to music only he could hear. I could only think about staying away from the “weirdo” and was worried he would panhandle or try to engage with us. Yet I too was frustrated in my limited thinking. The guys at the fire station next door were out (it was a hot night) and one of the guys just started talking to the dancer, and offered him a bottle of water. Aha! A pleasant exchange, one that was non-judgmental and supportive of the dancer. Although, as two women with two kids, we were slightly more vulnerable than a group of burly male firefighters, still, I admired their simple kindness to the guy. I will continue to learn by example from those who find a good middle ground. Maybe we don’t invite perfect strangers into our homes, but maybe next time, neither do we walk past an opportunity to help.

    1. Sometimes we have to practice prudence and be willing to let others step up to do a mitzvah.

      Children definitely alter equations about safety. I live alone, which I didn’t want to advertise to people I don’t know.

      You’ve given me an idea, though: perhaps the answer is to look at ways to support the people who feel freer to step up!

      1. Exactly! Or even just keep some bottled water on hand. I stopped buying it after I heard how much water and oil it takes to make, but otoh, it could have been a good offering for you for the warehouse fire fighters? I used to keep it on hand for door-to-door signature people if they were supporting something I supported–they always appreciated that.

  2. “Struggling,” Rabbi Adar, with questions like this and sharing those struggles for the benefit of others is for me living up to the true meaning of the word, Yisra-el (Israel). Situations that we face often do not come with clear or easy answers.

    1. Agreed, Rabbi! It is important to engage with the questions especially when the answers are not easy or obvious. I wish you safe travels!

  3. Two weeks ago while I was taking my first holiday in twelve years I received a message with a photo of my apartment building on fire. Several days later I arrived at the airport to find two friends waiting for me. They offered me a place to stay. After a week with them another offer came in with a place to stay until I can find another apartment. Good feeling knowing good people do exist and they are giving me all the time required.

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