Let’s return briefly to the questions which plagued author Sebastian Junger, in his suburban Boston youth, and set him a path that eventually led him to write Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging:
How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?
— Tribe, p.xiv
(See “Covenant and Liturgy” for full citation and more)
Previous posts explored the concept of “sacrifice” and how it translates into Judaism. Here are a few notes on “courage.”
Like “sacrifice,” the word “courage” comes into English from Old French (corage) based on Latin (cor = heart). In Hebrew, the expression is “ometz lev [אַמִּיץ לֵב]” — “to strengthen or reinforce [ometz]” one’s “heart [lev].”
One Jewish high school offers some useful remarks on how this value [middah] in Judaism might operate at different points in our lives:
Ometz Lev is the courage that allows us to accomplish goals in face of opposition. Often enough, that opposition comes from within us. The need for Ometz Lev (courage/ bravery) is not limited to outward challenges, but also to challenges from within. For example, neurological studies seem to suggest that in comparison to adult brains, adolescent brains have a tougher time maintaining long term focus. Conversely, the middle-aged brain is slower than the adolescent brain in starting a new task. It might take a bit of ometz lev to deal with pushing past natural inclinations.
— from “The Middah of Ometz Lev“
“Moving Traditions,” another teen-focused program, offers four texts for four types of courage people of all age could profitably consider:
Text #1 The Courage to Be Yourself
When the daughters of Yitro mistakenly called Moses an “Egyptian” Moses kept quiet. This is one of the reasons why he was not allowed into the Promised Land.
Moses cried out to the Holy One: Please, if I cannot enter the land in my life at least let my bones be buried there beside the bones of Joseph.
The Holy One said: Even when Joseph was captured, he said that he was a Hebrew.?But you pretended to be something you are not.
—Tanhuma Buber, 134
Text #2 The Courage to Control Impulses
Ben Zoma taught: Who is mighty? Those who conquer their evil impulse. As it is written: “Those who are slow to anger are better than the mighty, and those who rule over their spirit better than those who conquer a city.”
—Pirkey Avot 4:1
Text #3 The Courage to Question Authority
The finest quality of a student is the ability to ask questions that challenge the teacher.
—Solomon Ibn Gabirol
Text #4 The Courage to Rescue Others
Why do you boast yourself of evil, mighty fellow? (Psalms 52:3). David asked Doeg: “Is this really might, for one who sees another at the edge of a pit to push the other into it? Or, seeing someone on top of a roof, to push the person off? Is this might? When can someone truly be called a ‘mighty person’? When there’s an individual who is about to fall into a pit, and that someone seizes the individual’s hand so that he/she does not fall in. Or, when that someone sees another fallen into a pit and lifts the other out of it.”
—Midrash Tehillim 52:6