How do we define “hero”? Is there general communal agreement on what constitutes a hero? Most likely there is. A firefighter who enters a burning building to rescue people is a hero. A police officer who runs into an active shooter situation to save others is a hero. Our military who put themselves in danger to protect our freedom are heroes. There are others, and my not mentioning them does not reflect any lack of respect for them. Heroism does involve risking one’s life in a selfless act to save others. The Rabbis of the Talmud also pondered this question, with Ben Zoma offering the following answer in Pirkei Avot 4:1
Who is a hero? The one who conquers his impulses, as it is written: “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules over his spirit, than one who conquers a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
Simply put, America lost a hero this week with the passing of Senator John McCain. His personal story of bravery and selflessness as a prisoner of war is well known. He dedicated his life to public service, and although people may have disagreed with a stand he took, he was dignified and respectful. I recall the honorable remarks he made in his concession speech when Barack Obama was elected President. His style was that of old-school senators from a bygone era that worked behind the scenes across the aisle, putting America first. Alas, with his passing, I do not know if any of that high caliber remain. He was as human as each of us and readily admitted his flaws and faults. Yet, as his life and legacy are to be reviewed in the coming years, I have no doubt that his story will be one held up as a high bar for any senator to strive to reach.
Later in the same above-quoted selection we read the following concluding question and answer:
Who is honored? Those who honor all people; as it is written: “Those who honor Me, I will honor; but those who scorn Me will be despised.” (I Samuel 2:30)
May the memory of Senator John McCain be honored for a blessing, and may his legacy encourage others to strive for excellence.