Last weekend was LA Fleet week with an opportunity to tour some Navy ships, in our case a missile destroyer. It was very interesting but what really snagged my interest were all the stations set up around the area highlighting different jobs within the Marines and Navy (from medics in the portable emergency rooms to tank commanders to bomb zappers), as well as the first responders in other emergency services.

The firemen had a booth (and a truck for the kids to climb on), the policemen had a booth (with free pens and key chains), the LA Crisis team had a booth and the underwater divers of the LAPD had their own separate stand. Each was fascinating and impressive in its own right. Each required specialized skills, training and understanding.

And I left in awe. Not just at the variety of jobs available (I think the goal was partially recruitment; maybe if I was younger…), not just as the level of training and expertise required, not just at all the new information I was learning but at all the various ways and means that people were willing to put their lives on the line to help their fellow citizens.

That was what was really moving. I confess to not having given it much thought prior to this experience. I just accepted the existence of these safety teams. But seeing them en masse and speaking to them individually made me appreciate how fortunate we are and increased my gratitude.

In Jewish understanding, there is a well-known expression called mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice. We frequently ask ourselves what we are willing to put our lives on the line for. Sometimes that’s a tool for helping us understand how to focus our energies and life goals. Sometimes it’s a decision that needs to be made. Here were thousands of people who make that decision everyday, who are constantly putting their lives on the line to help people like me, total strangers.

And it’s not just a figure of speech. In the recent California wild fires, a number of firefighters lost their lives. The risks are real and constantly present.

I felt a renewed and heartfelt appreciation. And it led to reflection on this idea of self-sacrifice. Am I putting my life on the line for anyone? Am I challenging myself to learn and grow or living a life that’s comfortable? The police divers go underwater off the coast looking for potential bombs. If they find them, their options for defusing them are extremely limited. But they take the risk anyway. Because it’s important. Because they’re committed to serve.

Whatever my level of mesirat nefesh, I also need to renew my commitment to serve. And to stand up for what I believe in. Even if I’m not risking my life, I still need to put myself on the line. All those first responders were an inspiration to me. I hope I can live up to their lessons.