Two emergency medical technicians who recently refused to help a pregnant woman who collapsed in the coffee shop where they were taking a break were suspended from their jobs with the New York City Fire Department.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called their behavior inexcusable; refusing to help, he says, goes against human decency.

According to eyewitnesses, the EMTs told employees at the eatery to call 911 and then left when they were asked to help. The woman was eventually taken to a hospital, where she died a short time later. Her baby girl was too premature to survive. (Click here for the full story.)

The silver lining behind this heartrending story is that society understands that a sin of omission is no less a crime than a sin of commission. A truth that is already expressed in the Torah, in the Book of Leviticus (19:16): "Do not stand idly by when your fellow's life is threatened."

The unconscionable behavior of the EMTs is obviously exacerbated by the gravity of the situation that they ignored and the tragic consequence of their refusal to help. But in smaller ways, we all encounter situations where we are in position to help – whether we are requested to or not – and where we have the unique ability to help. But all too often we can't be bothered; we are "taking a break."

Perhaps an under-the-weather friend needs help with her children; another friend could use some valuable relationship advice; your child needs twenty minutes of quality father-son time; you know that you should really call your senator to ask her to vote yes on that pro-Israel bill...

Perhaps we are even already involved most of the day with life-saving endeavors (as were the accused EMTs), but that doesn't justify not jumping into action when presented with yet another unique opportunity to come to another's help.

Aside for its universal relevance, this thought also has a uniquely Jewish application.

Today, anyone with even minimal exposure to Jewish tradition is qualified to use the information at his/her disposal to help another, less "privileged" brother or sister. Even with a modicum of knowledge, one can positively impact another Jewish life.

As the Rebbe once said, "If you have already studied the first two letters of the aleph bet, and you have a friend who has only studied the aleph, it is your obligation to approach your friend and tell him: 'My dear Sir, I have some wonderful information to share. Aside for the aleph, there's a second letter: a bet...'"

And sometimes, the excuse for inaction can be motivated by "spiritual" reasons.

Back in the summer of 1995, I was called upon to direct a three-week day camp for mostly non-observant teenagers in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. Though excited by the challenge, in the weeks prior to the camp's opening I was also somewhat glum. Operating this program would take hundreds of hours of my time. I would have to plan a variety of sporting events, trips, overnights, etc., and then accompany the teens throughout. If I was lucky, I could expect to keep the boys entertained for half an hour a day with some interesting Jewish topics. Aside for that, it was all about making sure that these blasé seen-and-done-everything teenagers had an amazingly fun time.

What a spiritual waste of a summer.

The camp was supposed to start on a Monday. On the Shabbat beforehand, I chanced upon a pamphlet, a weekly publication, that featured excerpts of inspiring teachings of the Rebbe. I read the following excerpt, tearfully spoken by the Rebbe on a Shabbat in October of 1953:

The soul argues, "I've taken off my cloak; how can I put it on?" (Song of Songs 5:3). I've barely managed to disrobe from the garments I was wearing—how's it now demanded of me that I put them back on?

"I've washed my feet; how can I soil them?" (ibid.). My feet, with which I tread on the ground, and are therefore soiled with [grime]—I've washed them too. And now it's demanded of me that I should once again put them on the ground—to preoccupy myself with materiality. How can I again soil them?!

Leave me alone for a while, the soul pleads. It's enough! All day... all night... all year... Let me be for a short while; for a short while leave me alone and allow me to just be alone with my Creator!

And the answer the soul receives is: No. G‑d Himself is knocking on the door, saying, "Here, behind the door is a Jewish child who knows nothing about Judaism. You must go play with him for half an hour, afterwards take a walk with him, give him candies—until eventually you'll have the opportunity to teach him the aleph bet!"

Needless to say, I was glum no more.

What are some practical ways to expose our Jewish friends and neighbors to the beauty of their heritage? I'd love to hear your thoughts—feel free to share them.