Earlier this month, when we marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and remembered the terror of that day, we also remembered acts of great courage and gallantry uncovered in the embers of debris and destruction.
Many of us chose to focus on these memories, preferring to let the day that is now synonymous with human depravity, be instead remembered for the transcendent capacity of the human being.
It is also around this time of year that Jewish people pray -- among other things -- to be blessed with that capacity. In the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur liturgy, following the priestly blessing, we sing a prayer asking that on this day, G-d grant us strength and courage.
That we should pray for blessings of life, good health, children, peace and prosperity is plainly obvious. But in asking for courage, we presume a challenge that will call on extraordinary resources of strength. Apparently, the composers of the Rosh Hashana liturgy dating back many centuries had no illusions about the persistence of the existential threat to the Jewish people, and included a prayer for something we need now as much as ever: the courage to prevail.
As always, Israel disturbs a world of nations who find its mere existence intolerable. It is not a pretty truth, but truth be damned now that vilifying Israel is politically correct. The hysterical calls delegitimizing Israel at every turn, strident and loud and insane, have made inaudible the still small voice that speaks with truth.
In this din of madness where the discourse about Israel has been hijacked and scripted to satisfy a selective audience, we find too many leaders who are followers, leaders who at their best, are resigned to silence. It is times like these that give new impetus to our prayers in which we ask that along with all the other blessings, G-d bless us with courage, or at least with courageous leaders.
Today there are precious few leaders courageous enough to speak out fearlessly in support of the truth when it comes to Israel, and when it is so unpopular to do so. Recent events at the UN make it painfully clear that noble courage -- which should be the defining quality of any leader -- is rare among players in the theater of international diplomacy, and worthy of our mindful prayers on Rosh Hashana, when so much hangs in the balance.
But it is not only presidents and prime ministers who need to pray for courage. No matter our place in life, at home or in the workplace, as a parent, a college professor, student or neighbor, our actions and reactions are often diminished by louder voices of muddled morality, and by a smallness of spirit that cripples our ability to respond with the courage of our convictions. We all know professors, thinkers, writers and artists, who admit, but only off the record, that when it comes to Israel, standing apart from the pack and speaking honestly, would entail a professional risk they are not willing to take.
Before Joshua led the Jewish people in their historic conquest of Israel, G-d gave him a few succinct words of advice: chazak v'ematz, take strength and courage. More than a blessing, it was G-d's instruction to Joshua for achieving success in the battles he would have to fight to secure the Jewish people in their homeland.
The year draws to an end with Jewish people feeling besieged on many fronts, but courage is born of challenge and, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, it is the sine-qua-non of successful leadership at every level, in every sphere -- at home or in the workplace, on campus or in world affairs.
Rosh Hashana traditions include many practices symbolic of leadership and blessings for a year in which we lead with success in our respective concerns. May Israel lead this year with strength and courage. May all of us, wherever we are, be blessed with wise and courageous leadership, and may the new year bring peace, prosperity and life to humankind.