The Sake of the Good in the European Day of the Righteous

Gabriele Nissim with Moshe Bejski (photocredit: Gariwo)

Gabriele Nissim with Moshe Bejski (photocredit: Gariwo)

Our country, even with all the contradictions it lives with in this difficult moment, has managed to obtain from the European Parliament a recurrence of extraordinary moral value: the European Day of the Righteous. For the first time the concept of Good, understood as a secular value, has entered into the public discourse. A few hours ago in Rome, in the Parliament, and in many cities of Italy, and of Europe, and of the rest of the world, like Warsaw, Prague, Sarajevo, Kigali in Rwanda, the sixth of March will be celebrated, the second European Day of the Righteous, on the date that remembers the disappearance of Moshe Bejski, the architect of the avenue of the Righteous of Jerusalem.
 It is an important occasion because it not only increases the prestige of our country in Europe, but also because Italy can infect its neighbors with this valorization of remembrance of the Good, fundamental in the relationship between humans, in a critical moment in which many dream of a return to the selfishness of nations.
First of all, it is a day of thanks that is in some way reminiscent of the American Thanksgiving. In the United States, they remember the gifts of nature, in Europe we remember the good received from humanity: if today we lived in a community free of fascism and totalitarianism we owe it to the personal sacrifice of so many Righteous people, many who often remain anonymous, who have saved the Jews and other human life during persecution and during totalitarianism, they defended the values of human dignity with their conscience.
To remember these people means to in some ways to overturn the criteria of so many days of memory. Instead of putting all the emphasis on the Bad, it is instead to valorize the positive examples that can pass to new generations to look forward with hope and faith in the future. If there were states yesterday, during the darkest moments of their history, some people heard the call of their conscience and did not approve, this means that part of humanity is a mysterious compass that can push you to discern between the good and the bad, to hear the cries of another human, to assume responsibility.
To tell the exemplary stories is to assume a commitment for the prevention of genocide today and to listen together with those, between thousands of difficulties, try to defend human dignity in places like Syria, or in Ukraine. We think for example of the personal sacrifice of Ghiatah Matar, the young Syrian pacifist that distributed water to the soldiers faithful to the regime during the protests. He was convinced that through this gesture, something close to the non violent philosophy of Gandhi, the soldiers sent to kill the protestors could feel the weight of their consciences. His example was replicated by many Syrian youth in many cities, until he was arrested and his lifeless corpse was left like a warning in front of the house of his parents.  His message of peace and reconciliation was not passed.
The concept of the Righteous person that we take from Judaism, like classic philosophy, Christianity and the beliefs of oriental regions, has a great value not only in emergency situations, but in our daily lives. In fact, today in front of a crisis of sense for many people deluded by politics and afraid of our economic future, the call of the Good can give a grand charge for our future.  To do Good and act with responsibility means to not trust in an abstract justice or delegate to others their own destinies, helping who is closest to you, rescuing who is suffering, lending a hand to those who have fallen in the street, showing our availability to the lost. Being just is truly when you’re ready to save another person, and not when you try to find a showdown, like many love doing in our country.
There is often the idea in our society that our actions should look successful, about fame, about glory, about the search for recognition or recompense; something quite different from what the just do that behave in a certain way because they feel satisfied with themselves, when they sow the seeds of Good in their work and in their relationships with others. Those who opposed Nazism did this before and, like Hannah Arendt once wrote, were the lone forces in thinking against anti-Semitism, and those today that don’t pay the blackmail of the Mafia do it with the same spirit. In fact they have something in common: they are at peace with themselves when they act for the Good.
The philosopher Salvatore Natoli, that read religious texts in a secular way, reminds us of the great moral revolution of the Gospel of Matthew. In all classic cultures they refer to the Golden Rule, “Don’t treat others in a way you don’t want to be treated.” This was an invitation to abstain from committing wrongdoing on others. Matthew went another way, when he reminds us that Jesus taught this principle: “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law and the teaching of the prophets.”
Matthew shed light on the fact that to eliminate Evil, it’s not enough to abstain from it; instead it is more important to operate for the Good and to assume a responsibility.  The Good, in short, needs to be built, day after day, with everyone putting forth their best effort.
From this type of behavior, one doesn’t only derive a sense of personal joy, but they enjoy something more powerful deriving from the betterment of their surrounding world. When you help another person in trouble, one can enrich society entirely and one is much better off thinking of that that they have given to live in a better world. It feels truly satisfactory imagining the power to live in a world where everyone is available for one another, without asking for counterparts. There is no symmetry with the Good, a quid pro quo, but only the zest of doing it for a moral enrichment and the whole of society.
This is the great moral inheritance that the Righteous that have lifted the world in difficult times leave us; they represent for us the possible hope of a new beginning. 

Gabriele Nissim, president of Gariwo

Analysis by

28 February 2014

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