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Comfort Zone Heroism

02/01/2019 08:11:18 PM


Ilana Axel, Cantorial Leader

I was sharing a pizza with our delightful Sisterhood Co-Chairs Lesley Hollenberg and Ellen Rosenblum and we were talking about Jew-per heroes. Not specific people who are heroes; rather, what are the qualities that lead to heroism? We might turn first to the thoughts of Joseph Campbell, the American Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College who interpreted the unifying messages he found in the world’s mythologies. One common denominator he finds about heroes around the world: A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. Heroism, he said, is about transformation, not physical or gifted strength. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. It requires a conscious process. We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.1

Where do we find these heroes in Judaism? Most of us know many hero stories of this type. Abraham smashing the idols. Moses defending the Israelites. Moses defending the daughters of Yitro. Moses in Pharaoh’s court. Jacob moving the stone at the well for Rebecca. Rebecca watering ALL the camels. David facing Goliath. Rabbi Akiva as a martyr in Roman Caesarea. Joseph forgiving his brothers. All are instances of a person who risks their life for something bigger, forgoing thoughts of personal safety, and changing and being changed in the process. Campbell points out that every woman in childbirth is essentially doing the exact same thing. Indeed, Judaism emphasizes that every person who enhances the life of another over their own needs is walking the hero’s path.

As Lesley, Ellen, and I concluded, in contemporary jargon what is also required includes stepping out of one’s comfort zone. This is what Esther does in our upcoming Purim story. She steps out of her comfort zone twice: first to enter the palace as a bonded wife. Ok, sure, she got some perks, but still, think about this a bit more. We aren’t really talking about being loved and cherished here. And indeed, she then chooses to forego all those safe perks in her new comfort zone palace in order to save her people, at great risk to her own life. To some degree, as Ellen said, the whole Purim celebration is about stepping out of our comfort zones. We take much pride in our individualized public images, nurtured with such care, and then we are meant to throw them all away, if only for a day, and get crazy with our community for a greater good. In this collective transformation we experience a few moments of reflection, no matter how jovial, on the requirements of personal and communal heroism.

I am sure – indeed I hope - that many of us experienced some stepping out of comfort zones during the recent Congregational Retreat at OSRUI. If this is you, then I thank you for making the retreat an experience greater than our individual selves. You surely brought blessing to others, if merely by way of example, and, hopefully, you experienced some blessed transformations yourselves. Thanks to all who worked so hard to bring the retreat to fruition. And, our future special thanks to those who will take the bimah, some way outside of their comfort zones, to bring our story to life for us during Purim on Sunday, March 17. We hope you will all step out with us together this year.

1 These quotes are found in “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: Conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers” First episode date June 21, 1988 (Netflix); the book format was published by Anchor Books (Random House), 1988, edited by Betty Sue Flowers.

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784