William Hamilton

Going first

“Neither government wants to be the one who moves first to try and meet,” journalist Karen Hao recently said. She was a panelist in a conversation about the race between China and the US for global dominance in AI. 

In a power struggle, being the one who moves first can make you appear weaker. Being a more conciliatory party makes you vulnerable. But there are some arenas of life where going first is heartwarming. 

Let’s take demonstrating that you care. Making the first move to show that you care can be quite touching. This week’s portions feature the Torah’s only significant discussion of repentance. We turn toward God and God turns toward us (Deut. 30). If there’s a competitive dimension to who started it, you actually do want to be first. 

As US President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Going first shows them. 

Thank God most of our dynamics aren’t power struggles. That is, being in a state of siege isn’t our natural habitat. More often our struggles are internal, between how we see ourselves and how we wish we could. 

We’re a week away from the Jewish New Year 5784. It’s high time to commit anew to caring. Caring who we’re becoming and how we’re mattering in the lives of others. 

When you’re staring down your adversary, don’t be the first to blink. When you’re working on yourself, on how to forgive and earn forgiveness, on how to have more compassion for yourself, then blinking can be your best friend. 

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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