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Faces on Faith: Three choices when you see something wrong

By Staff | Jul 16, 2019

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

My wife Vickie and I have just returned from five weeks in Germany where we taught together about the Holocaust to high school students, and where I taught and preached in synagogues, churches and at the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical College in Berlin.

Repeatedly we would stress the importance of each human being and the choices we make.

The Holocaust did not happen only because very bad people had horrible thoughts and did horrible things. The Holocaust happened because too many ordinary people turned a blind eye to the evil.

So we stress to the students with whom we interact: when you see something wrong, say some kids are bullying another student, you have a choice. You can:

– Join in and be popular.

– Say, “It’s not my problem,” and walk a way. Or

– Have the courage to say, “Stop it. This is wrong.”

Of course we hope the choice you make, although it is the difficult choice is c.

The Bible offers us some wonderful examples of “c.”

In the first chapter of Exodus, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill every Hebrew boy they helped birth as it emerged from the womb. They had the courage to defy Pharaoh’s decree. As I point out in’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives:

The example of Shiphrah and Puah stands as a sharp rebuke for those who excuse their ethical misdeeds with the claim they had no choice – they were simply following orders from their superiors.

Case in point: During the trial of Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, Germany, defendant after defendant attempted to justify his action on the basis that he was just following orders. The courage of Shiphrah and Puah is timeless testimony that “just following orders” is no excuse to do evil.

Moses also chose courage over expedience. When an Egyptian taskmaster was beating a Hebrew slave, Moses, as an Egyptian Prince, could well have decided, “This is not my affair.”

Instead he stood up for the lowly slave and made himself persona non grata in Egypt.

Ethical dilemmas are not confined to the ancient world.

– On our southern borders today the treatment of those seeking to enter our country to escape lives of fear and oppression in Central and South America is inhumane.

– Our world suffers from the wanton disregard by its inhabitants of the dangers of climate change attributable to human actions and human indifference.

– People still suffer discrimination and acts of violence because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

We can:

– Continue to contribute to these atrocities.

– Pretend they are not our concern and turn our backs on these realities. Or

– Have the courage to stand up against these crimes against nature and humanity.

Our future depends on enough of us to follow the example of Shifrah, Puah and Moses and, “c.” To stand up to wrongdoing in whatever ways we can.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.