If not me, who?
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” by, Rabbi Hillel.
Oct 1, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry M. Smith mentioned a paraphrase of this quote in his discussion of leadership, the Carnegie Medal and Medal of Honor recipients. As he recounted the story of a Medal of Honor recipient who pulled 25 men from a Vietnam battlefield while being grievously wounded, he told the audience that he had asked a colonel why he had done such a courageous act while being so badly wounded. The colonel replied that he remembered a quote from Rabbi Hillel that reminded him that “If not me, then who? If not now, when?” provided the impetus for his action. Employing this phrase as a key part of his moral code and life philosophy provided both the motivation and the mandate to try and save as many men from the Viet Cong as possible.
Flash back several hundred years to a German monk in the middle ages struggling to be faithful in a difficult time. We see Martin Luther struggling to decide what to do about what he rediscovered in the scriptures, agonizing what it meant to serve God and others drove Martin Luther to post 95 theses on the church door, and therefore change history forever. When his work and his thoughts were being tried for heresy, he faced the holy Roman emperor and the medieval Catholic Church with only a few supporters in the courtroom. When asked to recant his teachings, Luther responded that in good conscience and in order to be faithful to the Gospel, “Here I stand” and I cannot take back even one of the theses or any other protest he had uttered even if it meant death.
These two men, as well as countless men and women throughout the ages, remind us what it means to stand in difficult times and ask ourselves who will stand for what is right and do what is needed to help others. “If not me, who? If not now, when?” is more than a good saying from a wise Jewish scholar and a Jewish Medal of Honor recipient. Both men understood the call to stand and do what is necessary even when it is not convenient. They along with Luther would recognize the fact that even when evil would take “our house, goods, fame, child or spouse, wrench our life away, they cannot win the day”, we must count the cost of not standing firm.
“ A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” a hymn by Luther.
They would understand the challenge of hunkering down to take care of themselves, staying low and living to fight another day. However they understood the greater cost of not answering the call when needed, and so they said here am I to do what they were able to do in desperate times.
Today we face many challenges in the forms of the government shutdown and its ripple effects, terrorism, crime, economic issues and even moral challenges. Yet our DNA is similar to the DNA of those who went before us and answered the call. We need only to ask ourselves “If not me, then who? If not now, when?” And then remember what a great cloud of witnesses, brothers and sisters throughout the ages, who stand with us no matter what the situation. Made from the same cloth, traveling in the same boat and given the opportunity to have a purpose that transcends the day-to-day grind, we too can answer the call according to our abilities. As we go through the various state and religious observances in these last three months, remind each other who and when in order that no one is left behind in these trying times and that we may live up to our created potential.