“As the founder of Judaism, Abraham gives us a vision of what it is to live directly and immediately in the presence of G-d, who knows our thoughts, our hopes, our fears, our dreams. This involves a radically new kind of heroism: the heroism of ordinary life, of decency and goodness, integrity and faithfulness, the humble, unostentatious heroism of being willing to live by one’s convictions though all the world thinks otherwise, being true to the call of eternity, not the noise of now.” — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant & Conversation
In the past I have been adamant about using the word “hero” only for people who I thought deserved it: those in our military who have risked their lives to save others; those who have struggled with adversity and have found their way through to the other side; those who have sacrificed their lives for a greater good.
At first when I saw this quotation by Rabbi Sacks, a part of me rebelled. As Americans, can we call ourselves heroic when we live in a country where we have every material benefit we could possibly want? Where there are more jobs available than unemployed people to fill them? Where we have freedoms beyond the imagination of those suffering in other countries?
Yet there are other types of heroism that occurred to me that can’t always be seen or measured.
There is the single mother who works two or three jobs to take care of her children after her husband leaves. Or the man who voices an unpopular position in the face of angry mobs. Or the woman who refuses to compromise her values when society demands that she acquiesce. Or a man who struggles with a debilitating disease and has led a life of helping others.
When we make these choices, often in anonymity, in spite of the protests of others, we are living the life of a hero—maybe in a small way, in just one segment of our lives—but we are heroes just the same. Carol Black, who was in the Tree of Life synagogue during the shooting in Pittsburgh, plans to return to the synagogue, even though her brother and his friend died that day. She feels it’s important to be present for others in their grief.
Of course, those very heroes are often humble, simply doing what they are called to do. I honor the choices these heroes of ordinary life make. They set an example for all of us to be heroes in the lives of others.Published in