William Hamilton

Sunset, Sunrise

“Be strong and be bold” Moses encourages Joshua as he prepares to lead the People into the Promised Land (Deut. 31:7, 23). Resilient leadership will be required.

One week ago we buried my mother, Betty Hamilton, who had suddenly passed from this world. As we drove through the Chicago suburbs toward the cemetery I noted federal flags flying at half-staff. It seems rare to see the flag at full mast these days given the frequency of tragedy in our world. Completely absorbed in my own loss, I didn’t realize that this time the lowered flag honored Israel’s visionary pioneer Shimon Peres. As in biblical times, leadership in the Land rewards a resilient spirit.

Our mortality is depicted on the High Holy Days as sheep who pass before God in judgment. Curiously, the sages imagine three different identities for us in this metaphoric passage: 1) sheep passing one by one, 2) flock as a collective herd, and 3) army soldiers. The represent three different perspectives: individualism, collectivity, and the battle-ready posture. Too often support for Israel is subdivided into those on the left and those on the right. Yet categorizing Israel’s dearest friends instead with these three identities can be helpfully revealing.

For some, personal conviction is primary in bonding with Israel. Following the herd of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is anathema to independent-minded conscience. For others the sturdiness of whole House of Israel is most essential. Mindful of our capacity to be our own worst enemy, they express a vigilant commitment to making space for both those growing moderate dignity and those impeding menacing danger. Still others are battle-ready, poised to reflexively respond instantaneously to developments and blogposts. The existential and moral urgency of the hour necessitates nothing less. Each vantage point is important. But individual conviction can become detached, indivisible consensus can become willfully blind, and interminable conflict can live every instant at the severest threat level.

A strength-finder approach to leadership focuses more on growing strengths than on struggling with weaknesses. Perhaps when proponents of each perspective look around with curiosity rather than looking forward with certainty, they can refine their strengths while appreciating the worthiness of other approaches. From time immemorial, our walls have gates, our boarders have bridges, and our sunsets have sunrises.

Some say time is running out for the realization of Zion’s dreams. Social, political, moral, and religious challenges abound. But Israel is not yet seventy years young. So many are rolling up their sleeves to renew and to restore. It is not accidental that Psalms assigned to these days ‘long for the mourning’ (shom’rim la-boker) and instill ‘strong and resilient hearts’ (hazak ve’ametz). May we have the resilience to look to the horizon and say in the name of Zion, Good morning.

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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