William Hamilton

Effort matters

“The harm she has done is irreversible” a friend confided. “So why have you decided to reconcile with her?”  “Because” he replied “her sincere effort to heal things, in and of itself, was outcome enough for me.”

Effort counts. A lot.  We appreciate how hard somebody works to understand us, even if they still don’t.  If they are ‘breaking a sweat’ trying, then it shows they care.  In this season of turning and healing, elbow grease can make a big difference.

Alas, our most prominent communicators often demonstrate the opposite spirit.  When they’re not expressing contempt, indifference is at their disposal.  The grammar of our lives is punctuated by lazy online attacks.  Yet apathy isn’t the primary antagonist to effort.  Complacency and dismissiveness are formative rivals too.

Daniel Gordis’ important new book highlights some bedrock differences between Israeli and North American Jewry.  He argues that widening rifts are more due to differing norms, expectations, and approaches to being Jewish, than to aggravating politics and policies.  And even more worrisome that ongoing misunderstandings is how each community is greeting the challenge of un-recognizability.  American Jews are feeling too complacent, not realizing how central Israel is to our thriving.  And Israeli Jews are feeling too dismissive of American Jewry’s inability to ‘get’ what they’re up against.  A fresh injection of effort from both sides might go a long way.

This week’s portion of Torah finds Joshua, Israel’s future leader, being blessed by Moses and God with the words ‘be strong and brave’ (hazak ve-ematz) (Deut. 31: 7, 23).  Persistent exertion would prove essential.  Today, we too pray in our season’s Psalm, ’strengthen your heart and sturdy it’ (hazak v’ya’ametz libecha) (Ps. 27.14).  A strong and sturdy heart pulsates with sincere and persistent effort.

Once there was a fence that was erected across a road.  A reformer approached, saying: “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” A more discerning reformer replied: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you take it down. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may then allow you to remove it.”  Ascertaining ‘why’, in this G.K. Chesterton vignette, requires and reveals effort.

Disagreements and disassociations abound these days.  May this season of repair and renewal reveal willing hearts that are resilient and resolute (hazak ve’ematz).  And may our own recognized and appreciated effort lead the way.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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