Saturday, December 26, 2009

All It Takes Is One

As we're all aware, a terrorist attack was attempted on Christmas Day, aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, in route from Amsterdam to Detroit. “Without any hesitation," says Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director who was seated in the same row as the terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: 
"I just jumped over all the seats. I was thinking, Oh, he’s trying to blow up the plane. I was trying to search his body for any explosive. I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking, and I tried to put out the fire and when I did that I was also restraining the suspect.”
All it took was one: one brave soul to risk not just injury, but his very life. All it took was one. And another. And another - for Mr. Schuringa was "aided by other passengers." We can't help but be reminded of September 11, 2001 and United Flight 93, whose passengers learned, while in the air, about that day's hijacked airplanes. It was their bravery, their rising up in the face of certain danger and death, which prevented terrorists from destroying yet another building that terrible day.

In Judaism, there is nothing as precious as human life. Human life is kadosh kedoshim, the holiest of all that is holy. Genesis' text tells us that, in the beginning, only one human being was created. Adam, then, constituted the whole of humanity. The Ancient Rabbis (200 CE - 500 CE) wondered why only one human was created first - and not many more. In the great anthology of rabbinic wisdom, The Talmud, the rabbis conclude that our account of creation intends to teach us that one person's life is considered to be as infinitely valuable as an entire world's population, for only one person was the world's entire population. 
"Tradition glorifies whoever saves a single soul, for it is as if he has saved an entire world." [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a]
This is reflected within the daily, lived life of Jewish Tradition through the ancient directive of פִּיקּוּחַ נֶפֶשׁpikuach nefesh. Meaning "saving a human life (literally: regard for human life);" it is based on the biblical commandment, "‏";לֹא  תַעֲמֹד  עַל־דַּם  רֵעֶךָ "You shall not stand idly by your neighbor's blood" [or, "as your neighbor bleeds,"] (Lev. 19:16). Jewish Tradition insists that one go to incredibly great lengths to save another's life; overriding almost every commandmentWe are obligated to act to save another's life. (Pikuach nefesh also serves as the groundwork for the Tradition's direction to donate one's organs, a subject I will discuss in a forthcoming posting.)

 Naturally there is no qualifier on whose life is in danger: any age, any religion, any race - anyone. Anyone. Any one.

I wonder if I would have the courage to do what this one man did. But his having done it reassures me that anyone, any one person, can be - and in fact, is - capable of such greatness, capable of living up to that which Jewish Tradition demands of us. Even when you least expect it of yourself.

Read the story here:

[For more introductory information on Pikuach Nefesh, visit THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA, Second Edition, Volume 16, pages 152-153.]

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