Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 

The Height and Weight
of Heroes
Rabbi Yisrael Rutman

The America of the Big Shoulders is back.

Since September 11th, images of masculine strength and compassion---especially of firemen and paratroopers---have dominated the media. They are the new American heroes. They are, as Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "the men who charge up the stairs in a hundred pounds of gear and tell everyone where to go to be safe."

It took a national trauma of terror, but the image of the strong, protective male has undergone a swift renovation; transformed from a figure of blockhead chauvinist ignominy into a hero of rescue. The icon of the dotcom multi-millionaire in khakis and BMW has been peremptorily deleted; the struggle for gender equality has been muscled aside by the struggle to bring Osama bin Ladin back dead or alive.

But for how long? New heroes are always waiting to be projected by the media. It could be the scientist who discovers the wonder drug to cure anthrax. Or it could be the next Woodward & Bernstein who dig up the true story behind the September 11th attack. Our need for heroes is deep and undying. But the ever-changing images in the media are superficial, often ersatz, manufactured for the moment, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Jewish tradition has always recognized the need for heroes---the kind that have staying power. The Sages teach that each of us must ask: "When will my deeds reach those of my fathers---Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?"

They too were heroes of rescue. Abraham fought the four most powerful kings of his time in order to save his nephew Lot from captivity; Jacob rolled the mighty boulder off the well to water Rachel's sheep. Moses was singled out for leadership when he searched over the mountain to find a lost lamb, and when he slew the Egyptian who was beating his fellow Jew to death. (Isaac is omitted here for reasons that should become apparent in the following paragraphs.)

Tradition gives no hint, however, of their height and weight, with or without helmet and shoulder pads. For they were above all giants of the spirit, and their physical exploits were secondary. Any success they had in the material world was purely due to their merit as servants of G-d.

The heroism of the Patriarchs was part and parcel of their spirituality; and there is a depth and subtlety to it which far exceed the capacity of any media image to capture. The concept of chessed (kindness), goes further than just responding to the call for help. We learn from the Patriarchs that chessed means becoming the kind of person who seeks out opportunities to improve the lives of others. When Abraham discovered the Creator as the ongoing Giver of life and blessing, he brought that message to the world. He set up a chain of lodging places where people could rest and eat, and where he taught them to appreciate that everything including the food he was serving them comes from the Creator. He didn't wait for them to come to him; he went to them. The Jewish ideal of chessed is not reactive, it is an irrepressible expression of the essential man.

But the archetype of chessed does not stand alone. The ultimate Jewish role model is a triad, a coalition of spiritual greatness. Whereas Abraham represents pure chessed; Isaac represents introspection, self-criticism. Without it, chessed unchecked can become a destructive force. Kindness to the wicked (these days it may take the form of "understanding" the causes of terrorism), can be a cruelty to his innocent victims. On the other hand, a self-critical rigor without love can lead to moral and emotional paralysis. And to maintain harmony between the two, we need emet (truth); the constant striving for a kindness and introspection unimpaired by the hidden agendas of the self. That is why we are enjoined to direct our aspirations to all three of the Patriarchs, so that we may be guided by their balanced example.

We can take heart from the acts of brave men; but real guidance and a lasting source of inspiration needs something deeper. For that we turn to the founders of the Jewish tradition.


Sources: Michtav MiEliyahu, Volume 2, Pp. 160-1; Carl Sandburg's "Chicago...City of the big shoulders."

Reprinted with permission from www.e-geress.org.


 


ARTICLES ON MIKETZ AND CHANUKAH:

View Complete List

Repent! For the End is Dear
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5761

Chanukah
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5761

The Triumph of Quality Over Quantity
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5756

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Chanukah, Chutzpah, and Coming Close to G-d
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5757

In the nick of time
Shlomo Katz - 5770

Dreams
Shlomo Katz - 5763

ArtScroll

A Spiritual Holiday
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5755

Chanukah and the Torah Scholar
Shlomo Katz - 5762

How Extrordinary The Result
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5761

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Chanukah: A Postscript
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5756

The Whole and The Part - Part II
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5766

Lessons in Devotion
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5756

> The Essential Attributes of Being an
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5771

Seeing the Plan to Fruition
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch - 5763

Paint the World with Light
Rabbi Label Lam - 5775

Why Eight Days?
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5755



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information