No One Decides to Be Evil

May 7, 2024

My father-in-law has a saying: “No one wakes up one day and decides to be evil.” 

Meaning, no one intentionally decides to be evil. Far too often, a person who does evil mistakenly believes they’re actually doing something…good!

I often think about this nowadays, where every time we look at the news – recently around college campuses – support for evil seems so obviously born of well-intentioned ignorance. Call it what you will – justifications, false beliefs, bad decisions, poor role models – it all leads to the same end result. But: no one wakes up one day and decides to be bad.

Fortunately, when I catch myself thinking about this, I often take comfort in the reverse question: Do heroes – who show unbelievable courage and sacrifice – wake up one day and decide to be heroes?

In fact, I don’t think they do.

Mostly, I think heroes are born out of a steady, consistent framework of morals, values, and ethics in the right direction. It’s that inner core that suddenly leaps to the forefront in what seems like “sudden” acts of courage. 

In honor of this week’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I’d like to introduce you to a group of heroes who demonstrated this heroic consistency when fighting courageously against pure evil during the Holocaust, as well as Jael, a Biblical Hero who hit the nail on the head when it came time to stepping forward in a brave act of defiance. 

There’s a fascinating group of women who, despite being small in numbers, played a significant role in the resistance during the Holocaust. They were called couriers or, in Hebrew, Kashariyot. Kashariyot comes from the Hebrew word Kesher – which means “connection” and that’s what these women did: they helped forge connections. Connections between the intelligence that they had on the Nazi party and the anti-Nazi resistance. The Kashariyot were often young Jewish women who were motivated by a deep sense of loyalty to their Jewish communities and a fervent desire to resist Nazi oppression. Many of them had witnessed the atrocities committed against their fellows and were determined to fight back in whatever way they could.

These courageous women undertook various dangerous tasks to support the resistance effort. They liaised between different resistance groups, smuggling messages, weapons, and supplies across enemy lines. Some worked as couriers, delivering vital information between ghettos, camps, and partisan units. Others participated in sabotage operations, gathering intelligence and providing assistance to prisoners. Of course, the work of the Kashariyot was not without tremendous risk. Most of them knew that the chance of survival was very slim. They faced a constant danger of detection by the Gestapo and other Nazi authorities. If caught, they faced torture, imprisonment, and execution. Yet – despite these risks, they persevered, driven by their commitment to the cause and their determination to resist Nazi tyranny.

One such woman was named Bella Ya’ari Hazan. Born in 1922, Bella was always taught to be proud of her religious roots. From a young age, Bella was a member of the Zionist Youth Group, e-Halutz ha-Za’ir-Dror, and quickly found her place by participating in other similar camp and youth group activities. These activities weren’t just for fun. They went far further than the local basketball camp or a tennis club. They instilled within her a bedrock of commitment and a will to pitch in when her people were in danger.

When World War II broke out, Bella became a courier for the underground. Her Aaryan looks only helped her essential work – she seamlessly blended into society. Her brave work included acting as an interpreter for the Gestapo – which subsequently enabled her to steal official stationery from them! These raw materials became the salvation for many would-be victims – as they were turned into forged German ID cards and travel permits.

In 1943, Bella was arrested and taken as a prisoner, where she ultimately ended up at Birkenau, the women’s subset concentration camp of Auschwitz. But Bella’s story doesn’t end there. It’d be natural to think that brutal imprisonment and imminent death would absolve her of any more heroics. But no one wakes up and decides to be a hero. Bella didn’t stop. She continued working for the resistance – even in the concentration camp. Ultimately and quite miraculously, given all that she had been through. 

Bella’s story reminds me of Jael, a Biblical heroine who was not only raised with the moral clarity she needed to know when to act, but also wasted no time doing the right thing when the opportunity presented itself. 

In the Book of Judges, the Israelites struggled against the Canaanites in a harrowing battle. Most of the Canaanite army was defeated, with the Israelites emerging victorious, but the top general, the evil Sisera, remained. Towards the end of the battle, Sisera stumbled into Jael’s tent – perhaps in a last act to save himself. You see, Jael came from the family of Hever – and Sisera? Well, Sisera thought that he had an alliance with them. 

Little did Sisera know that Jael would use her wit and fast thinking to seduce Sisera to sleep and then drive a tent peg through his head, killing him in an incredible and praiseworthy act of heroism that helped bring an end to the war. It is so praiseworthy that Deborah the Prophetess lauded her as a heroine, too.  

Here’s the thing—Jael’s heroic act wasn’t on a whim. Jael was primed to be a hero. Her family were considered descendants of the Midianite clan, making her ancestor…the famous Jethro! And Jethro, as Exodus teaches us, was a wise community leader, who supported the Israelites and even offered Moses crucial advice about leadership.  Jethro stood on the right side of history – and that moral compass clearly stayed in the family. Jael’s quick thinking allowed her to deliver justice and secure victory for the Israelites. Her morality followed in the footsteps of her ancestors. 

At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned that being evil and being a hero involves time, whether it’s the degradation of goodness or building the sturdy foundation on which the good lies. Either way – neither happens in a vacuum. 

The good news is that we’re all fortunate enough to be primed and ready to be heroes. We have a head start because we have the backbone and values absorbed from the Bible and our communities of faith, and if you’re reading this article, you likely have that strong Biblical foundation. 

We’re at a crucial moment in history where we have the ability to make a difference. The question is: will you take action like Jael and Bella – and stand up against evil on the right side of history? Will you create a narrative of courage over complacency? Our actions today shape what tomorrow bring. It’s up to us to leave a legacy of doing what’s right for the next generation, no matter how difficult it may seem.

This article is part three in a seven week series on Heroic People in the Modern Day and Biblical Times.
Catch up on last week’s hero, here.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
A Land Built for Prayer
An Emotional Rollercoaster
Bread of Blessings

Related Articles

By: Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email