A Message from Rabbi Aft
If I could bottle up confidence and give it to those who need it (perhaps all of us), I could win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an article that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote before he died, about the weekly portion, "Shelach Lecha," he discusses confidence. Please take a moment to read the excerpt below. After you read the excerpt, please remember how important it is to "look up" and what the consequences can be if we "look down."
My message to the confirmation class tomorrow morning, June 5, will be to believe in things that are important and have the confidence to work to achieve them. Confidence and faith can make a huge difference in how we respond to challenges which we face.
On Wednesday night, we had a seminar about synagogue security and how important it is for us to be proactive in making sure we are safe. Antisemitism is increasing in the US (according to the ADL studies which were quoted). If we see something, we need to say something, and we need to DO something. Rabbi Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me...." As the building will be reopening in the coming months, our leadership is making sure that we will be safe. However, it is up to all of us to be sure to be vigilant in being aware of any potential "situations" which may arise.
We need to have the confidence to believe that WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE AND TO BE SAFE. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb and have the confidence that we can and will be strong.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Excerpt from article by Rabbi Sacks:
It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in the Torah. Ten of the spies whom Moses had sent to spy out the land came back with a report calculated to demoralise the nation.
“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large… We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are… The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height… We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Num. 13:27-33)
This was nonsense, and they should have known it. They had left Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world, after a series of plagues that brought that great country to its knees. They had crossed the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Red Sea. They had fought and defeated the Amalekites, a ferocious warrior nation. They had even sung, along with their fellow Israelites, a song at the sea that contained the words:
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
Pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
Trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. (Ex. 15:14-15)
They should have known that the people of the land were afraid of them, not the other way round. And so it was, as Rahab told the spies sent by Joshua forty years later:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two Kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:9-11)
Only Joshua and Caleb among the twelve showed leadership. They told the people that the conquest of the land was eminently achievable because God was with them. The people did not listen. But the two leaders received their reward. They alone of their generation lived to enter the land. More than that: their defiant statement of faith and their refusal to be afraid shines as brightly now as it did thirty-three centuries ago. They are eternal heroes of faith.
One of the fundamental tasks of any leader, from president to parent, is to give people a sense of confidence: in themselves, in the group of which they are a part, and in the mission itself. A leader must have faith in the people they lead, and inspire that faith in them. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School writes in her book Confidence, “Leadership is not about the leader, it is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else.” Confidence, by the way, is Latin for “having faith together.”
The truth is that in no small measure a law of self-fulfilling prophecy applies in the human arena. Those who say, “We cannot do it” are probably right, as are those who say, “We can.” If you lack confidence you will lose. If you have it – solid, justified confidence based on preparation and past performance – you will win. Not always, but often enough to triumph over setbacks and failures. That, as mentioned in our study of parshat Beshallach, is what the story of Moses’ hands is about, during the battle against the Amalekites. When the Israelites look up, they win. When they look down they start to lose.
That is why the negative definition of Jewish identity that has so often prevailed in modern times (Jews are the people who are hated, Israel is the nation that is isolated...*