The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a good opportunity to reflect about the courage to do the right thing. When I was young there was no doubt in my mind that had I lived at the time of the Holocaust I would have been one of the few brave women and men who had risked their lives to hide Jews.
But once I had children of my own I was not at all sure sure. This new realization was not comfortable, but the responsibility of having children made me coward. I know that it would have prevented me from doing the right and human thing.
While contemplating on doing the right thing two different sources come to mind: the first is the famous Halachic principle of “your town’s poor come first.” which means that my first obligation is to take care of those who are the closest to me, and among the town’s poor are my children and family. However, as Rabbi Yuval Cherlow stresses, in taking care of our town’s poor first, we should never lose sight or close the door on the rest of humanity.
The second source is literary and it approaches the subject of doing and not doing the right thing from a totally different angle, still I find it effective. Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility starts when Mr Dashwood dies and his son John inherits all his wealth. The son had made a promise to dying father to take care of his step mother and half sisters, but his wife Fanny Dashwood dissuades him from doing so. Austen brilliantly presents John’s conversation with his wife in which she slowly and methodically builds a case why he does not owe the poor women a thing. This scene is ironical and almost absurd, but it is also familiar and truthful. Unfortunately the consequence of this conversation is that the widowed wife and the daughters are left destitute.
By disobeying his father’s last request, the son disobeys God, the Bible commands: “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” Exodus 22:22 i am sure that Austen and her readers were familiar with those quotes.
After my children grew up I knew it was time for me to start doing the right thing and became a social activist. Of course nothing could ever come close to the courage of the Righteous Among The Nations. I am forever grateful for what they did for my people and for the rest of humanity.