middot responsibility besorah taking responsibility

taking responsibility

Written by  rabbi michael schiffman

art-cleanup2Responsibility, in society has negative connotations. When something goes wrong, everyone looks for who is Responsible. Responsibility has become a synonym for “guilt.” Whoever is responsible, is the one who is guilty. Yet this is not really what the term was designed for.

Responsibility refers to the one on whose shoulders the burden or obligation rests. This too is negative, but the person who bears responsibility is the one to whom we look for things to get done. When we talk about a man taking responsibility for the care and provision of his family, we say he has to “man up,” which means he has to do what he is supposed to do.

Most people don’t like to take responsibility. They try to blame someone else when something goes wrong. It takes a person of maturity and courage to take responsibility whether at home, or at work, or in society. Taking responsibility means you have to pay the price and do what needs to be done instead of what you would like to do. Paying for something on your credit card is assuming responsibility, but paying your credit card bill is being responsible.

The Torah calls us to live lives of responsibility; whether for our families, our business, or our culture or people. That’s what it means when it says you are to love your neighbor as yourself. If your neighbor’s donkey falls into a ditch, it is your responsibility to help him get his donkey out of the ditch. I Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” We are expected to help those in need, starting with our own families, but also our own people, as well as all people. Its our responsibility as children of the Most High.

It's much easier to turn away and say it's someone else’s responsibility to help others, but when you think about it, God put us here to help one another. As Keith Green observed, “How can you be so numb, not to care if they come, you close your eyes and pretend the job’s done!” We are either those who turn away, or people who do something to alleviate the situation that needs fixing.

I spend my time advocating on behalf of the Jewish poor, primarily in Israel and the Former Soviet Union; primarily Holocaust survivors. I am not a rich man. I don’t have the resources to change their lives. The one thing I can do is advocate on their behalf and raise money to help their situations. Other people don’t have much they can do living in America, but they can contribute to help these people. Some people don’t do anything, while others do something. We can either take or shirk responsibility.

Yeshua taught a parable about a “Good Samaritan.” In this parable, a man is attacked on a lonely highway from Jerusalem to Jericho and left for dead. Religious men see him and walk on the other side of the road to avoid him. A Samaritan traveler sees him, rescues him, takes him to a place of safety and pays for the man’s expenses. It was the Samaritan who took responsibility for the poor victim. Yeshua’s point was that being religious does not fulfill a person’s duty in life. If you see someone in need, it is your responsibility, whether or not they are your faith, your color, your people, or not, to help them.

An elderly Catholic lady, who was known to be an anti-Semite was honored by the State of Israel for saving Jews in the Holocaust. When she was interviewed, they asked her why, if she didn’t like Jews, did she help save these people. Her response was, “because they asked me.” She understood the concept of doing the right thing, and it overshadowed her dislike of Jews.

Life presents us with opportunities to help people every day. We can find reasons to turn away, or we can do something to help them. It’s called, “Taking Responsibility” for one another.

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