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Super Jew-Per Heroism

08/01/2018 08:26:21 PM


Ilana Axel, Cantorial Leader

The New Year 5779 is fast approaching and this year we turn our congregational attention to the theme of Jewish heroes – Jew-Per Heroes, indeed! Which brings me to Moses.

It is hard thinking about Jew-per heroes without including Moses. We would not recognize ourselves today if it weren’t for Moses – whoever he really was. Whether in actuality an Egyptian prince, or a born again Israelite; whether revolutionary or evolutionary; whether a single individual or a collection of communal mythical persons - Moses is our iconic symbol of Jewish heroism in the face of three grave challenges: Survival; Group Identity; and Ethical Revision.

One thing that strikes me about Moses’ heroism is how many times he actually – fails! He doesn’t get much time in Torah to revel in success. God brings the Israelites across the Sea. The next day they complain. God brings water for them out of a rock. The next day they complain. Moses never seems to get those Israelites to understand that God wants a caring relationship with them. I can’t imagine wanting to keep a job where no one ever really gets the message, or leaves a little thank you note once in a while. This is where the heroism of Moses is so inspiring. He has a vision and strikes out to fulfill it, even when he suffers so many setbacks along the way. Many of us would give up well before Moses did, who does show some serious wear and tear by the book of Numbers. But by Deuteronomy he gathers himself up one last time to deliver a series of sermons that are meant to re-inspire the entire venture. Great heroes are not heroes because their tasks are easy. They are great heroes because they persevere, re-evaluate, change approach when necessary, and keep their eye on the prize. They don’t give up. True heroism does not start with a big “H,” like in Marvel movies. True heroism starts with a little “h,” honoring God and our lives through the bittersweet dance of challenge and resilience.

At the High Holy Days we all get to recognize our inner Jew-per heroes. Sure - the fasting, the standing, the longer praying. All are ritualized cues designed to focus our minds on the many ways we persevere throughout our lives. Often we have to change track, go to plan B, readjust our dreams, assess our losses, recognize our failures, plan our next approach, and then get on with the task of living. The upcoming High Holy Day season is an extended opportunity to Heighten (thus, High Holy Days) our awareness of the small “h” heroism we employ to craft our lives into a sacred art of living. When we fail, and acknowledge our failures, that heroism cleanses us. When we re-evaluate and make new life choices, that heroism is internalized within us. When we identify our values and keep them before our eyes, that heroism redeems much in the world. This is one of Judaism’s deepest messages to us all. As we gather together this year with our rituals, our prayers, our music, and our silences, may we take courage from the small heroisms we witness in ourselves and others each and every day. May we learn to see and recognize new models for heroism from our rich heritage, and from within our own community. L’shanah Tovah!

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784