Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Nitzavim

“It’s too hard!” “I can’t do it!” These most often heard mantras from people who routinely demonstrate such a lack of faith in themselves also show a lack of faith in us. Regularly, I tell students, I would not have assigned the task if I thought it was too hard or you were not able. When it comes to Bar and Bat Mitzvah, I finally get through to our youth when I can show that I have been tutoring students, preparing them to accept their new budding-adult role in Jewish life for over 30 years (thank you, Rabbi Gene Levy). I know that all will be well when I then say, “To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever died from Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and I don’t intend for you to be the first. Until that moment, they have little faith that my faith in them holds value.

Long ago, I believe during my senior year in High School (Yes, I was once young), a Track teammate taught me a forever lesson about what it means to have absolute faith in one’s self. Bo Howard was a sophomore Decathlete. We were performing strongly at the State Track meet. I had personally fallen short of scoring as did a couple of others from whom we thought we would have little problems claiming the title. It really came down to the Decathlon. Bo was a gifted athlete (to this day, though, he denies that this was a big -deal). The final event was the mile run. If he won the mile, he won the championship – and we could be on track to do so. Now, candidly, I don’t remember whether we did or did not win, but Bo’s story was life-changing. He led the race for most of it. Beginning the last lap, one could see he was tiring, and the next guy behind him passed and extended the new lead. Coming around the final turn, Bo found something inside and, at the finish line, crossed first and passed out.

On the one hand, this is a fairly innocuous story. He treats it as such. For so many of us, though, it was testimony that the power is there, often we just don’t tap into it. Bo was well within his rights to just be exhausted and accept that he tried. He had more. We all have more than we think that we have.

We keep looking elsewhere for help, for strength, and security. We don’t trust that we have the capacity to do amazing work for our world. Torah tells us differently. “For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?’ Instead,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and your heart so that you can fulfill it.”

The power to do more than we think we can do rests within us; it only takes faith to find it, harness it, and use it. Over the next few weeks, we will spend time wishing each other a Happy New Year. We have the power to help make it a better year for each other. We have the tools to make it a much better year for us. If only we would take the time to look inside, we would find our way to see past the barriers and exiles we impose on and between each other. I look at the rhetoric that rips us apart, and I47 know that we can do better. It is not about the next (or last election), no, the discord we experience happens simply because we decided to hold ourselves to a lesser standard of humanity. We do not need more laws regulating our behavior. We do not need decency lessons. We can do so much better. We need to remind ourselves of our ultimate priorities and remember the text each of our religions teaches, “What is hateful to you do not do to others.” Are we really ok with treating people poorly, demeaning, or dismissing their value – regardless of their backgrounds? Is this how we want to be treated? IF we are the other in society, would we want to be dismissed? If we fled violence, would we want to be locked out? If we were hungry, would we want our need to be ignored? I think probably not. We can do better – we have to remember that truth resides inside each of us – it just gets clouded by the conversations around us, our own insecurities, and our failure in faith. Let’s crawl inside and let’s be more for each other and for ourselves. Shabbat Shalom.