By Rabbi Shraga Simmons
When a crazed gunman opened fire inside a Connecticut elementary school – murdering 26 children and adults – first grade teacher Vicki Soto responded with an astonishingly selfless act.
Upon hearing the first rounds of gunfire in an adjacent classroom, the 27-year-old teacher went into lockdown mode, quickly ushering her students into a closet. Then suddenly, as she came face to face with the gunman and the bullets flew, she used her body to shield the children.
Vicki Soto was found dead, huddled over her students, protecting them.
We all mourn this unspeakable tragedy.
Yet where did this young woman get the strength and conviction to perform such an extraordinary act of bravery?
In the animal world, this devotion is found to some degree as a motherly instinct. The bear will fiercely protect her cubs, just as a mother is intensely devoted to her children. But how far does it go? Can it even override the most basic instinct for self-preservation?
A parent’s greatest wish is for her children to grow, to see them flourish – physically, emotionally and spiritually. With determination and focus, a parent can attain a level of absolute devotion – even at the expense of her own welfare.
What makes Vicki Soto’s actions so remarkable is how she developed that same degree of self-sacrifice for children not biologically your own.
She lived with the reality of a profound truth: A teacher is like a parent, charged with nurturing a child’s growth, helping to transform their physical lives into something greater.
“Vicki’s life dream was to be a teacher. It’s what she loved to do,” said her cousin, James Wiltsie. This young woman was willing to give up her entire worldly existence, for the higher meaning of caring for these children.
Deep down, we all want to accomplish great things. We all want to give generously and truly care for others. We all want to use our potential.
A friend recently told me that he’s been thinking about his “legacy.” Now in his mid-50s, he is haunted by one overriding question that he cannot ignore: How will I truly impact this world?
I told him to sit down and figure out what he’s willing to die for. Maybe even read some obituaries, to give perspective on the greater meaning of life.
I told him: Once you’ve found a cause so meaningful that you’d forfeit your life for, that leads to the more important and obvious corollary: If you are willing to die for something, then that is the highest goal for how you should be living.
There is something deep in the psyche of every human being: Being good is so important that we’re even willing to die for it. Yet we too often fall short of these higher objectives – because we get distracted.
Vicki Soto understood that when you live with full focus and devotion, you attain unparalleled power.
The great tragedy is that this remarkable young woman had so much more to give.
Let us ensure that her death is not in vain.
Let’s make a plan to discover our ultimate purpose and then implement it into day-to-day life. Let’s take it one step at a time, so not to become overwhelmed. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and not get distracted.
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Vicki Soto’s great act of devotion should inspire us to take 10 minutes today and ponder: “What am I living for?”
Finding the answer is a big project. But there’s no better use of our time and energy. Because if we don’t know what higher purpose we’re pursuing, then we’re living like zombies, just going through the motions.
Vicki Soto was up to the challenge. “She didn’t call them her students,” her sister Carlee told NBC. “She called them her kids. She loved those students more than anything.”
She loved her students so much that she referred to them as her “little angels.” In reaching the ultimate level of devotion and saving their lives, Vicki Soto reached beyond the angels.