How to Save a Life
As the JF&CS community chaplain, much of my day is spent in hospitals, visiting patients and their families. It is not an infrequent occurrence that a friend or family member of a patient will follow me out of the room into the hallway to speak to me privately.
On one such occasion, the person following me out of the room said, “Rabbi, I’m not asking for myself, but for my friends (the patient and his wife). I know that their son is having problems with drugs…. Don’t you have a program for that at JF&CS?” “Yes, we do” I answered. I handed her our HAMSA brochure and spoke with her about our services.
I have no way of knowing for whom this woman was asking questions or if HAMSA was of any help to the person in need. I do know, however, that this woman was very likely risking someone’s confidence or giving voice to a family secret in the hope that help be sought out.
Hiding one’s own addiction, or that of a friend or family member. is common. Shame, fear and denial all contribute to keeping a problem under wraps. As friends or family members, we might wonder whether it is appropriate for us to reveal another’s secret. After all, betraying another’s confidence can have far-reaching consequences on that relationship.
Jewish tradition is unequivocal: “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” (Leviticus 19:16) The Bible teaches that we are obliged to help another, which includes revealing information that is of life-and-death significance. Confidentiality is of vital importance, yet saving a life takes precedence.
When you ask yourself whether you should say something, consider the consequences of maintaining silence and the degree to which a life is endangered. The Talmud teaches us this: Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
You might just safe a life.