Surfacing our inner heroes
By Michael Leo Samuel
CHULA VISTA, California –This Shabbat is the 9th of Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. Yet, Shabbat does not afford us the opportunity to grieve. For this reason, the fast is postponed to Saturday night.
The time of the “Three Weeks,” leading up to Tisha’ b’ Av, are traditionally sad times of the year. But somehow, the Three Weeks have been especially difficult this time of the year—much more so than recent memory. First, there was the terrorist attack in Bulgaria that resulted in the murder of 15 Israelis vacationing along the Black Sea. Then there was a crazed madman in Aurora, Colorado, who killed thirteen people.
The Shekhinah (God’s Presence) is depicted as crying whenever innocent people die. Yet, there can be life beyond death, and there can be death within life itself. The “ninth of Av” contains an allusion of hope and rebirth. According to tradition, the Messiah was born on this day.
In the Exodus narrative, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (´e|hyè ´ášer ´e|hyè) (Exod. 3:12), which Jewish tradition teaches, “I will always be present even in the world’s darkest moments.”
Jewish wisdom teaches that God continuously brings our existence out of the abyss of nothingness, and is renewed with the possibility of new life—but even God needs a Moses, an Aaron and Miriam to manifest the power of redemption. Divine deliverance never occurs in a moral vacuum.
Yet, when we witness the victims who perished, we wonder: Where was God? The answer is not an easy one. But in all honesty, human beings alone are responsible for the evil that they create in the world. Human beings alone are the only ones who will eradicate evil’s presence.
We cannot expect God to do anything what we are not prepared to do for ourselves. Any kind of redemption—requires a human element to realize the divine possibility of redemption.
We are the ones who write the script.
When we look at the Colorado massacre, three particular heroes stand out above the rest: Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves. Each of these three individuals died saving their loved ones. Real heroes don’t have to wear spandex; they can look like you and me.
With respect to Jon Blunk, his mother said, “He always wanted to be a superhero, he’s wanting to save someone or do something greater,” “He was 6-feet-2, in incredible shape, which is why he was able to push her down under the seats of the theater,” said his girlfriend’s mother. “He pushed her down on the floor and laid down on top of her and he died there.”
Where was God? From the perspective of some who survived because of the heroism seen by these three individuals, God is always with the rescuers. Indeed, there were many other individuals who survived and acted heroically as well.
Another man who survived the shooting told a CBS reporter that his first thought was protecting his pregnant wife. “Just save my family and do anything I could to save my unborn child; and I wish I could have done more because there were two families that had brought their kids in car seats.”
Jewish tradition teaches that God created the first human being alone in order to teach us that whosoever kills a single soul is considered as though he has destroyed an entire world. By the same token, anyone who preserves a single human soul, it is as if that person sustained a whole world.
There is only one way to be born, but many ways to die. Our souls choose the script that will leave its mark upon the future. We can die an ordinary death; we can die a cowardly and shameful death, or we can die the heroic death in making the world better for others. The world needs heroes. Let us remember that every one of us has a hero inside of our souls waiting to be born. Only with this kind of selfless and loving spirit, shall we ultimately redeem the world of its pain.
 BT Sanhedrin 37b; JT Sanhedrin 4:12, 22b
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