William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Where courage is born

When you do something in service of others, you get courage. It’s much more difficult to do something for yourself. Thus says optimist Simon Sinek, and then he adds, “I’m very happy to let myself down.”

Indeed, the courage you find that propels you forward through doubts and fears does often come from outside yourself. It comes from serving someone else or a cause that’s larger and lasting. Sometimes it takes gusts of energy to push you through wavering hesitancies and wandering diversions. The sources of such energy vary. You may be determined to keep a promise to a friend. Or the bus passenger seated nearby suddenly appears to be in distress. Occasionally, it’s a more enduring commitment that can deposit a dose of fresh energy when you need it most.

Such a higher cause bookends the portions of Torah we learn this week. It’s actually the most reliable and resilient cause and spiritual energy-source in history. It’s the covenant between God and our people.

The first and last of the three chapters that make up our portions feature the restorative spirit, signaled by dozens of mentions of the Hebrew word ‘ga’al’, meaning to redeem. Noteworthy is a complete absence of the word from the center chapter which depicts some terrifying consequences of a world detached from morality and divine meaning. It’s not accidental that the primary prayer-association with God’s strength relates to this restorative impulse (go-el chazak atta). Lastly, we conclude books of the Torah, as we will with Leviticus this Shabbat, by rising for a burst of energy, with a wish ‘May strength’s momentum help us strengthen each other.”

Good advice typically weighs the context of a predicament. Yet covenant reminds reminds us that as important as the context is, it isn’t everything.

Remaining tethered to a higher cause can lift you out of an immediate context in which you’re feeling mired. It can pluck you out of quicksand onto a place where you can regain your footing. When you’re entangled and confused, a reminder that you’re part of a larger and and more lasting drama can give you back your north star.

May holding that purpose as dearly as you can, make courage more available for you and for those you serve.

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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