Joel Bergstein wrote me today about the righteous gentile who hid his father's family in Nazi occupied France, Rene Dartau. Joel had spoken to the guests at his son's wedding about Dartau, explaining that Dartau had hidden the Bergstein family on his farm and shared his meager food with them. Joel then announced that without Dartau, there would be no Bergstein family and no wedding.
Joel wrote me this because he wanted to draw my attention to another group of heroes: the frontline medical professionals who are taking on the coronavirus. They are working endless hours, and exposing themselves to significant risk to save the lives of others. This, Joel noted, is an act of profound heroism.
Heroism is very often a misunderstood concept. In the ancient world, the hero was very often the powerful one, the soldier, general and king who could overcome his adversaries. In the contemporary world, the hero is the celebrity: the jet setting businessman, actor and sports star whose life is chronicled in the society pages of the newspaper. But in the Jewish tradition heroism is something very different. There is a passage in the Talmud Megilah 31a, that explains that whenever the Bible makes reference to God's divine power, the Bible immediately afterwards mentions God's sense of humble charity to those in need. The lesson of the Talmud is that power is not meaningful on its own; God's greatness is found in the service of the weak and the vulnerable. Judaism believes that heroism is about self sacrifice and acts of kindness.
Around the country, emergency room doctors are working double shifts to deal with the new influx of patients. Nurses and hatzolah volunteers are ministering to those with the coronavirus, risking exposure while selflessly serving others. If you're searching for a real hero, take a look at any hospital and you'll find one walking the hallways.
It is our obligation to recognize these heroes. Caroline Bryk wrote to me today about the medical professionals in our community. She asked: "Is there any way we can support them at this time? They have limited energy and are barely home. Perhaps we can send them heartfelt emails of gratitude...?"
Caroline is right. We must support our community's heroes, our medical professionals. They are going above and beyond to save lives and to protect our community. Please thank them, and tell them how much you appreciate everything they do.
And if you children ever ask you what a hero looks like, point to these medical professionals. They are sacrificing everything to save lives.