ISSUES OF FAITH: Fill your heart with courage and kindness

“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear, not to fear at all” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslev).

HAVING THE COURAGE to stand up for someone or a just cause doesn’t mean we don’t experience fear, but that we find the inner strength to move forward anyway.

Jewish tradition sees courage and strength as closely connected to loving kindness. We are taught to practice ometz lev, courage of the heart, in showing concern for others.

There are countless examples of people overcoming their fear to act with loving kindness, often facing potentially dire consequences.

In the Torah, we read about Abraham confronting God, insisting the innocent residents of Sodom and Gemorrah be saved. We see Shifrah and Puah, the Egyptian midwives, resisting Pharaoh’s order by saving Israelite babies, and Esther risking her life by revealing she was Jewish to the king.

In modern times, there are heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela who acted courageously, risking prison and death, and untold numbers of ordinary people who stand up for unpopular causes despite the consequences.

The 2015 Disney movie “Cinderella” wove the traits of kindness and courage throughout. Ella’s mother tells her, “Remember to always be kind and have courage.” The Cinderella story is enduring, not because a woman is rescued by a prince, but because it tells of someone who continues to be good and kind despite all odds, and is ultimately rewarded for having the courage to stay true to that goodness.

What a wonderful world this would be if people could simply be kind and have courage. The Torah repeatedly speaks of the importance of these qualities.

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger” ( Leviticus 23:22).

On courage, we read in Psalms 138:3, “When I asked for your help, You answered my prayer and gave me courage.”

In Judaism, we are reminded that both kindness and courage are essential to a balanced life.

In a Jewish meditation on courage, we are told to “Do the right thing without fear of the consequences.”

The Talmud teaches “The world stands upon acts of loving-kindness.”

It can take courage to be kind to those who are vulnerable or those who can be of no benefit to us.

It’s easier to go through life thinking only of our own needs and ignoring the suffering around us, and more pleasant to keep quiet when we see injustice or wrongdoing in society.

We practice ometz lev whenever we leave our comfort zone, take an unpopular stand, speak the truth, confront others, risk personal loss or intervene on behalf of those unable to do so for themselves. In the end, history shows that those who had courage, and who took risks to show kindness to the most vulnerable, were the true heroes.

Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ In the Wind”, calls out those who don’t have the courage to speak out against injustice.

“Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist

Before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Jewish wisdom teaches us to always “Be strong like a lion.”

Rabbi Karyn Kedar says, “Listen to your conscience. It is your compass, your North Star. It will guide you when the night is dark … Never betray your sense of right. The self cannot truly be full without tending to the needs of others. We live in relationship, not in isolation. Our quest for kindness and love must extend beyond the walls of self to the hearts and minds of others” (God Whispers).

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.

________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is debeyfam@olympus.net.

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