We are certainly living in strange times — and it seems like it is just one thing after another!! The winter storm and the challenges we have all faced are yet another reminder of how fragile the world is. However, we are not fragile but vulnerable. The difference is an important one. The dictionary defines fragile as flimsy, insubstantial, not strong. That definitely does not describe our Jewish people or the people I know and work with in the Dallas Jewish community. The word vulnerable doesn’t sound so great either when defined as susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. However, vulnerability can be a great strength. Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
In addition to the courage to make it through the tough times today, we have Purim to teach us lots about courage and doing the right thing when it is hard. There are many lessons in the story of Purim but for our children, the heroes of Purim give us lots to talk about. Of course there are Queen Esther and Mordechai and we must not forget Vashti!! Each had a different way to show courage.
The Jewish value of courage, in Hebrew, is “ometz lev.” The most interesting thing about the Hebrew word is that it translates as “strength of heart.” It is not just about being strong in a physical way but doing the right thing when it is hard. More than that, it is also about doing something new and different, even when it is hard. As a camp director, I think and talk about risk a lot and what it means to take appropriate risks. Here are a few sections from an article titled “Giving Ourselves Permission to Take Risks” by Elizabeth Jones. The article was written primarily for early childhood but it is really a message for all of us.
“Courage, as we’ve learned from the Cowardly Lion, is a virtue that is hard to sustain. New experiences are often scary; we don’t know what will happen next or what we should do. Yet all new learning involves risk. We learn by doing — and by thinking about the past and the future.
“Risk is inevitable; it’s a requirement for survival. The challenge is to name it, practice it, enjoy the rush of mastery, and bear the pain when pain is the outcome.
“A child who climbs may fall. But a child who never climbs is at much greater risk. Fall surfaces under climbers aren’t there to prevent falls, only to make them less hard. And hugging doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does make it more bearable.”
There are many calls today for courage, and risk has taken on new meaning for all of us. I remind families and staff that RISK is not a four-letter word to be avoided but it must be evaluated on so many levels. Risk helps us grow whether we are 2 or 102 — but it always must be done as smartly as we can do it.