Greatness meets Growth

“Often I wonder, what I would have done had I been around fifty years ago back in the days when Rev. Martin Luther King was organizing and advancing Civil Rights” a young student of history recently reflected. “Would I have stepped up? Would I have been at the Lincoln Memorial? Selma?” A teacher responded, “You don’t need to speculate on what you would have done back then. Then is now. Will you be in the front row of history or be seated further back?”

History is paying a dramatic visit this weekend in Washington and around our country. The word ‘great’ will be invoked often. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for great (gadol) also means grow (gidail). 

The word appears three times in this week’s portion of Torah. When Moses notes that fire is not functioning normally, a bush burns without being consumed, he says, “Let me turn and see this great sight (ha-mareh ha-gadol)”(Ex. 3:3). Yet in order to experience greatness their must first be growth. The young boy gets named Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter as he begins to grow up (vayigdal ha-yeled) (Ex.2:10). More noteworthy in the very next verse we learn, “When Moses matured (vayigdal Moshe) he went out to his brothers and saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, one of his brothers” (Ex. 2:11). The message is unmistakable: greatness is generated by growth. 

Growth, despite its connotations, is not always positive. Uncontrolled growth can be understood as the ideology of the cancer cell. Yet baked into Moses’s maturation is a revulsion against injustice. Growing walks in stride with advancing justice. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way: “The history of humankind may be described as the history of the tension between power and equality.” 

May our nation grow toward greatness. In so doing may we strive to make God’s Name great (Yitgadal) with holiness, through the Kaddish we pray and the sanctity we grow. 

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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