Strong People Stand Up for Themselves but the Strongest People Stand Up for Others
In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was stabbed in the stairwell of her apartment building in Kew Gardens, New York. Despite her screams for over half an hour, not a single neighbor came to her aid, nor was a call placed to the police. When she was eventually found, she was already dead. This shocking incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the “bystander effect” or “Genovese Syndrome,” and the murder became a staple of US psychology textbooks.
Would you rush to aid a victim of a crime that you witnessed?
In America and most of the Western world, there is no law that obligates a “Duty to Rescue.” China is often criticized for the apathy of its citizens who are not only unwilling to intervene when witnessing a crime but choose to record them instead!
Only Israel has a law that will fine any witness to a crime who chooses not to intervene in a situation in which they could have helped. The law is sourced in the Torah portion which commands us “not to stand idly by when witnessing the blood of your fellow being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16).
The deep compassion exhibited by this Divine law is eclipsed only by its majestic wisdom as it presents us with a worldview that allows us to cope with our troubles as it dawns upon us that our problems are actually our purpose.
Our obligation to intervene is not just about empathy, it’s about destiny. While G-d is all around us, He doesn’t communicate with us directly, but rather through the hurdles that He places before us. Each obstacle we encounter isn’t by chance, it’s a message from Above to lead us to where we need to be.
When Esther was forcibly taken from her husband Mordechai to become the Queen, instead of complaining, Mordechai told her that this held the keys to her destiny to save her nation in what ultimately became the Purim story (Esther 4:14). When Joseph languished in an Egyptian dungeon for over a decade for a crime he didn’t commit, he understood that this was where he was supposed to be. His positive attitude is what compelled him to befriend two prisoners who had colluded to accuse him of his crimes falsely. This rendezvous ultimately led to his freedom and his propulsion to Prime Minister soon after, saving the world from a severe famine (Genesis 45:5).
You’re not supposed to solve all of the world’s problems, but if the problem you face becomes the problem you solve, you will have found your world. Thus the Ba’al Shem Tov taught that we should learn a lesson from every event we encounter.
G-d gives us only what we can handle, but it’s up to us to handle what we’ve been given. And if you’re wondering if your mission in life is complete, you can be sure that if you’re still alive right now—it isn’t!
When a seed decomposes in the soil, its problem is the pathway to its purpose. Indeed, everyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only G-d can count the apples in the seed. The humble seed teaches us a profound lesson—when things fall apart it’s so that better things can fall into place!
Adversity is always the partner of progress. When facing the unfamiliar, the graceful deer freezes in the headlights. The lowly caterpillar, conversely, embraces the solitary confinement of its cocoon. The former becomes roadkill, the latter sublime. If nothing ever changed, there would be no such thing as butterflies.
Like elite IDF soldiers, who are trained to immediately spring into action when ambushed instead of falling into shock, to survive on the battlefield of life as well, we must enthusiastically and proactively neutralize the problems we encounter as the pathway to our purpose as if our lives depend on it.
May we be upstanders not bystanders.
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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