middot silence torah say something already

say something already

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-fingersears"Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother, I am God" —Leviticus 19:16

Back in the early 1990's, an unknown figure named Erin Brokovich emerged.  She was a single mother of three, working in a law firm in California, who wanted to know what medical records had to do with a real estate file. What she found out led to the biggest settlement on record for a civil class action lawsuit.  She discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric was dumping hexavalent chromium into unlined ponds on their facility grounds.  It was seeping into the groundwater.  It was killing the nearby residents. This story, which later became a film in 2000, was about a sassy, uncompromising woman who felt that the truth needed to be told.  Silence was killing the people of Hinkley, California, and enough was enough.

What is wonderful about this film is that it shows, without a doubt, that a human being felt that silence was not an option.  The people of Hinkley were suffering everything from nosebleeds to deadly cancers.  Their own drinking water was not a source of life, but filled with toxins and gene-mutating additives.

What is probably more distressing is that PG&E, the culprit of these sins, was telling the local community that chromium was good for them, paying for their physicals with their own doctors, and deceiving the masses on a grand scale.

You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness. (Exodus 23:1)

The PG&E executives were mavens at allowing false accusations to reign.  Chromium can be good for you—they weren't going to tell you that hexavalent chromium was deadly.  This kind of communal deception was not only a pure evil, but would affect generations to come as the DNA of the victims would be corrupted from exposure.  This was truly shameful and about as malicious a witness as you could get.

What Torah demands of us is simple.  If we know that those around us would be in serious jeopardy or danger from our withholding information, then we are obligated to break our silence.  Anything less is murderous and a grand disregard for human life.  Sometimes it is very difficult to carry out a mission of non-silence.  Perhaps it means losing our job, threats on our life, or even hardship.  But when human life is at stake, we are obligated to do what is right and say something to the proper people.  The laws of speech are very explicit:  if human life or livelihood are at stake, we are forbidden to keep silent.

Perhaps we don't have Erin Brokovich moments, but surely we have moments when should speak up for things that are not morally right.  Our ethical makeup should be great enough that when we are challenged, and we see fit that we should act, that indeed we do.  To do anything less is not only irresponsible but cowardly.

Stand up for what is right, stand up for Torah.  Silence can be golden, but silence can also maim. 

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