When I was a child, I used to save the world. Daily. As a superhero named Benman, I donned my cape to do battle with the villains down by the mailbox and around my street. When I came home, my Mom would be there to hear of my exploits and give me a reward, usually cookies. I have thought back to those childhood fantasies many times. But as playtime gave way to studies, I began learning about real villains. Both the active kind – criminals and people filled with hate and pain, and the kind of horrors that are not man-made, but haunt us just as much. While I long ago hung up my cape, I have not abandoned my belief that I still need to help save the world.
Last week, I was at the Simcha fundraiser, wearing a pair of tights and a mask. It felt good to dress like a superhero at a time when the world feels like it needs more of them. But I cannot wipe out antisemitism with one fell swoop. Where once Captain America punched Adolf Hitler, I have only my words and ideas at my disposal. Nor can bigotry be erased even by superhuman strength. But like in the comic books, where only a team of the mightiest heroes can triumph over evil, a people united against hate and intolerance do have the power to overcome.
We are called every day to be heroes. It is asked in the Psalms: Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers? (Psalm 94:16) The answer: all of us. When we realize that we are called to be heroes, the words of our tradition empower us, enable us, embolden us. Yes, it is important to work together to solve our problems, to collaborate, to join forces. But before we can come together, we must embrace our inner heroes.
Although it is no signal in the sky, Hillel charged us: B’makom s’ayn anashim, hishtadel l’hiyot ish: in a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human. And this is the true irony of heroism: that the most human of emotions: compassion, empathy, and love, those are what make heroes. And they are needed most at the times when humanity seems in its shortest supply. We have more strength, power, and abilities than we often realize. There is a moment when every hero realizes their true potential and acknowledges their power. If you have not been impelled by recent events to embrace your inner hero, now is the time.
Rabbi Benjamin Zober