Elie Wiesel frequently states that “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”
By that measure, William Toledo is a lover of humanity.
In the days after last week’s shooting rampage outside the Empire State Building, in which an out-of-work T-shirt designer killed the man he blamed for his unemployment, then in turn was shot to death by New York City police officers whose firing injured nine bystanders, most of the media coverage, deservedly, was on the assailant, the murder victim and the wounded people.
Almost overlooked, beyond a brief story on WCBS Radio and a mention in Newsday, was Toledo.
He’s a doorman at an apartment building near the Empire State Building.
As frightened people fled from the shooting scene Friday morning, he opened his building’s front door, allowing about a dozen people to find refuge in the lobby. He called 911. He tried to calm down the frightened individuals in the lobby. He would not allow anyone to leave until it was clear that the danger had passed.
In short, he was not indifferent.
For a long time I had a clipping on my apartment wall about a similar scenario that took place here several years ago. A shooting. Frightened people on the street. Another doorman. In this case, the doorman, who had witnessed the crime, refused to let into his building anyone who was not a tenant.
In other words, that doorman, indifferent, left those people to their fate.
I lose count of how many stories I’ve read of Jews, escaping from the Nazis during the Holocaust, who knocked on doors, sometimes of strangers, sometimes of casual acquaintances, sometime of old “friends,” asking for shelter – maybe for just something to eat. Sometimes the doors slammed in the endangered Jews’ faces; sometimes the door opened to safety; sometimes at least some food passed from hand to hand.
There were severe penalties for anyone caught hiding or otherwise helping a Jew during the Third Reich. Only G-d can judge the actions of those confronted with an instantaneous, life-or-death decision.
The penalty for Toledo was obviously less severe. Maybe he’d get into trouble for violating company policy by allowing non-residents, en masse, into his building.
The Gemara (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 17:a), in a discussion of the Next World, talks of people who require a lifetime to acquire their eternal reward, and of others who earn in “in an instant.”
By opening a front door to strangers last week, Toledo in an instant assured that the doors of Heaven will open to him.