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Fred Levesque was gearing up for an ordinary day. It was December of 2013. The air was cool and brisk—nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, as he drove to the gym he noticed a home on fire. A 7-year-old girl and her mother were trapped on the second floor and unable to escape. The fire department hadn’t arrived yet, but to Levesque the course of action was clear. After breaking open a back door, he crawled under the smoke and up a staircase to rescue the girl. By the time he removed the girl from the house, officials had arrived and were able to rescue and revive her mother. When reporters turned up, Levesque humbly stepped out of the spotlight and declined to be interviewed.
We take note of this kind of heroism because it’s uncommon. Most of us would be dismayed to see a house on fire. Yet, how many of us can truly say we’d do as Levesque did? With firefighters and paramedic help only a phone call away, it’s easy to decline responsibility and assume someone else will rise to the occasion. Yet, this is exactly what the Creator does not want us to do.
Kabbalists teach that before the revelation at Sinai, Moses asked the Israelites if they would accept responsibility for each other and tend to each person’s care and needs. The revelation at Mount Sinai was contingent on the group’s acceptance of this reciprocal responsibility for each member of the community. Kabbalists believe that accepting responsibility for others and the willingness to sacrifice whatever necessary in order to live up to that agreement is paramount to our growth and fulfillment.
However, most of us go about our daily lives without really checking in with the needs of others. We’ve become conditioned to think of the lives of others as none of our business. It may even seem second nature to look away at a disturbing situation when it does not involve ourselves. According to Michael Berg, “we must accept responsibility for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, and our world.” This means deciding that you are the right person to act when you see a need and not assuming someone else will step up and take responsibility.
The Talmud says there are giant souls who declare, “I am willing to lose everything in order to give the world a chance to achieve the Gemar HaTikun, (ultimate peace and harmony).” These giant souls are well aware that they may not be able to be present at the Final Redemption, or that they may lose everything physically and spiritually in the process, yet are still willing to take that chance and do whatever is in their capacity to create change.
“Most of us work hard,” points out Michael Berg, “but how many of us would say, although I’m probably going to fail, I am willing to give up my life for the chance to end pain, suffering, and death in this world? Look at the work you do... It’s not about us trying to find ways to push when we’re not supposed to. It’s about looking at what we give up or sacrifice.”
Being a great soul doesn’t mean responding to the proverbial patriarch in the sky looking down at the world, telling you it’s time to step up. It’s about forgetting what anyone else is doing or thinking, and focusing only on what you are capable of achieving, deciding that you are the one to make a difference.
The bottom line is this: “If we are there when others are in need, then when we are in need, we are heard,” says Michael Berg. “This acceptance of responsibility is why we are in this world. Only when each of us takes upon ourselves this responsibility can our world change, can great tragedies be averted.”