If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? -- Hillel
This sage tripartite principle, together with the Golden Rule, comprises the essence of ethical living. And the first part of this essential tripleton may be redacted to a colloquial version of the Patriarch's allegorical precept for survival: 'Get a life. Strive for more.'
In a recent post I referenced the foremost among the human-relationship moral imperatives of the Decalogue, as I believe it to be a reliable prescription for living a good life. What I termed, facetiously, to be a modest prescription is only modest by virtue of its brevity. It is at least as consequential as the ethic of reciprocity. My purpose in this post is to elaborate what I believe to be some implications of such a prescription.
If one takes the Commandment to 'Honor your father and your mother' to its natural finality, it implies compassion for a dying parent. Sometimes, however, a parent dies suddenly, and one might think that such compassion can not be universally experienced. Certainly not if, perish the thought, a child predeceases a parent? But everyone is dying. Having compassion for a dying parent, therefore, is an appropriate expression of honor, always.
If a parent has a fatal illness, the subordination of one's compassionate feelings to common self absorption is the province of narcissism. And taken to its limit, such subordination constitutes indifference. To my mind, indifference to a loved one is the ultimate prescription for an unhappy life, for everyone but a sociopath; though even Stalin understood this, as he famously remarked, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
Finally then, 'if not now, when?' For as sure as God made little green apples, postponement is a one-way street to the house of regrets, with incomplete refuge through Atonement.