William Hamilton

Standing Erect

“I felt like I grew ten inches taller,” Sandy said. She was recalling the first time people she highly admired asked her for her opinion on how to solve a problem. When they said, “What do you think, Sandy?” her spirit and her self-esteem were forever lifted. 

Learning to stand erect, calmly confident, unburdened by challenges that show up in your life or by weaknesses with which you yourself struggle, is more than a posture adjustment. It changes your life. 

This week’s portions of Torah feature a verse that inspired Israel’s founders. “I am your God who brought you out from slavery in the land of the Egyptians, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect”(komemiut) (Lev. 26:13). Daniel Gordis’s important new book brings to light the original intent of Ben Gurion to fasten the third word of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, “The Jewish People was raised (kam) in the Land of Israel” to our verse’s promise to attain a national capacity to stand erect. 

What does it mean to stand erect today? We live in times when a lot of mental activity is getting used up on things that don’t deserve it. Stories in your newsfeed sometimes work like sponges that drain your drive, or like pollution that blurs your priorities. How do you stand erect when decency is lying prostrate?

First, by sourcing sacred resources. They help you clarify the vast difference between a talking point and a torpedo projectile, between verbiage and bloodshed. Today’s conversation between a father and his son, brings this home. 1 of 5 missiles fired by terror cells in Gaza, lands in Gaza. Yesterday 4 Palestinians, including 2 children were killed by misfired rockets. 

Second, it means confronting the messiness of statecraft by recognizing that more than one thing can be true. Friends of Israel, along with all Israelis, can condemn one thing and defend another. As Einat Wilf  wrote this week,“To be moral is to venture daily into life, straining to make the best choices under circumstances that rarely if ever present a simple, “good path.” Two things remain baked into Zionism: 1) refusing the trap of victimhood and 2) bringing to every difficulty a new device.

Lastly, it means keeping from becoming captive to retaliation and retribution. That is, from being collared and dragged into morally low places where you have no business being. It means you can stay sufficiently attentive to wrongs without being driven mad by them. 

Standing erect means finding ways to stay unyoked when you’re under a new irritation rising in your mind. It means discovering new and compelling ways to remain, in a word, free. 

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