One of the most compelling commandments/mitzvot of the Torah states: “You shall not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds.” The message is clear: “all that evil needs to prevail is for supposedly good people to become passive and silent.”
Hannah Arendt was a Jewish philosopher and writer. After escaping Nazi Germany and coming to America, she wrote a great deal about the use of power and military strength. And she conveyed a profound thought when she wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.”
Yes, she is referring to those who remain passive, both as governments and as individuals. Imagine that some 200,000 people have died in the civil war in Syria, and the world remains silent (except for its repeated condemnations of Israel.) ISIS is as evil as any force we have long experienced, and our world flounders in responding to wickedness far weaker than us. And on a personal level, do we not all know of people who are lonely and isolated and yearning for human contact, as we find countless excuses for how busy we are. And in our schools, we still hear of episodes of merciless bullying, and those who “stand idle” while young children “bleed.”
Yes, good and evil are to be measured by our actions, both collectively and individually. “You have to act,” says the Torah in this week’s portion. May we be strong enough to take a stand on those matters that define the human condition, both close to home and far from home.