I'm fortunate to be one of 20 Jewish lay leaders in St. Louis chosen as part of the first Wexner Heritage program cohort our city has seen in 28 years. In the beginning of August, we, along with 2 others' cities participants attended a week long introductory retreat in Aspen CO where we studied under the guidance of some of the most respected Jewish educators in the world. Our intense study will be ongoing for 2 years, culminating with graduation in Israel in 2017. It is my honor to share with you a subject which will hopefully allow us to examine our role in the world in the year to come.
Chutzpah. Perhaps we've said of someone, "Wow, he's got chutzpah!" Or, "That took chutzpah!" What exactly is chutzpah? Irrepressible strength. Empowerment, responsibility for the world. As Jews, we are taught to challenge, to ask the difficult questions that others may not ask (maybe not even our fellow Jews as only the wicked son asks such a question at the Passover Seder), to challenge God in the face of adversity (matters of nature are exempt as these are circumstances beyond our control). Biblically, we see this when Abraham stands up for his fellow Israelites in Genesis 18 and challenges God's plan to wipe out the city of Sodom. Abraham, now in a covenantal relationship with God, does exactly what God has asked of him, to challenge God as he plans to wipe out the innocent along with the guilty. Abraham acted as a blessing, knowing his role was to bring justice to the world around him, to fight, to demand justice: "Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?...far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" As Jews, we are commanded to fight for matters of social justice, to challenge the wrong in the world, and while it may tire us out, we are acting as God has commanded.
With the days of Elul upon us, we have the opportunity to examine if we have acted justly, with dignity, in the way that God has commanded us to be a blessing to our fellow man. To be Jewish we must consider that we are measured not by our material things, but by our ability to take action, to be a blessing to those who cannot fight for themselves, to ask those difficult questions and fight for justice in the world. Being Jewish is not easy, it can be tiring, it takes chutzpah.
Shanah Tova, a happy and sweet new year, wishing all of us a year of peace and happiness, and a year of fighting for what needs to be righted in the world, a year full of chutzpah!