Responsibility is a theme deeply embedded in Judaism, spanning the Torah’s teachings to modern narratives. I’d like to explore by bifurcating this concept into what I will call selfish and selfless responsibility. Navigating between these paths questions not only what our responsibilities are, but also why they are so important.

Selfish responsibility, while seemingly negative, can be understood through the lens of self-preservation and personal growth. The Torah emphasises the significance of self-care. “Love your neighbour as yourself” works both ways. This directive implies a prerequisite: one must first love and take care of oneself to genuinely love and care for others. Yet, when this self-care turns into self-centeredness, overshadowing our duties towards others, it then deviates from the Jewish values of communal welfare and Tikkun Olam—repairing the world. Meanwhile,
selfless responsibility embodies the essence of Jewish ethical teachings. It is vividly demonstrated in the story of Abraham, who, despite his personal covenant with God, continuously sought to intercede on behalf of others, even strangers, as seen in his plea for Sodom and Gomorrah. His actions underscore the Jewish imperative to look beyond our personal needs and cater to the greater good of others. Modern Jewish narratives further illustrate this struggle. One significant example is the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised the Czech Kinder transport and saved 669 children from Nazi persecution during the Holocaust. His selfless actions, undertaken at great personal risk, exemplify the profound
impact of putting others’ needs before one’s own.

However, discerning when to prioritise selfless responsibility over personal desires is a complex dilemma. The balance requires profound wisdom. It challenges us to ask difficult questions: When does taking responsibility for oneself hinder our ability to serve others? And when does selflessness demand too great a personal sacrifice?

In navigating the fine line between selfish and selfless responsibility, Jewish teachings offer a compass. They encourage us to strive not only for balance, but to seek greater understanding of what common responsibilities foster service to oneself, to others and to the wider community.

Source: Human Rights - written by young jews from 40 countries with support of B'nai B'rith International Portugal and International Observatory of Human Rights