Approaching Shavuot: The Face of Courage

by Aryeh Ben David

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ABD headshotSeveral times, life has stared at me and asked if I had the courage to step up. It was not a time of war. There was no physical danger. Nobody else would have noticed.

The first time I couldn’t step up. The second time I did.

The first time, I was 24 years old, Studying in a prestigious rabbinical program. I was on a path. I could see how it would play out in 5, 10, even 20 years. Parents were proud of me. The path was clear. I was confident, I was set. Then, life stared at me. I realized in my kishkes that this was not the path I should be on. I knew it, crystal clear. My heart said – drop out of the program. Stay in Israel. Explore.

But – what about my self-declared path – in which I could and would succeed?

I decided to leave – but then my conviction began to wobble. Parents, mentors, and friends warned me that I was making a terrible mistake. In their words, I was throwing my life away.

I was throwing away a sure thing – for what? An unknown path? What would I do? How would it play out? I didn’t have any answers.

In the end, the multitude of unknowns undid me. I couldn’t take the step. I stayed in the program. Every moment knowing that it was wrong place for me. Let me tell you – there is no worse feeling in the world.

A year later, life stared at me again. Still in the program, still full of doubts but unable to summon the courage to face the path of the unknown. I met a young woman who listened deeply to me and said: “I think you can do it. I believe in you.” And I found the courage to leave the program and embark on my path to the unknown. It was a feeling of exhilaration that echoes within me today.

Why am I talking about this?

We are often tested in choosing between the safe and known path versus the path of the unknown. A poet once said: “Life begins at the meeting point where the path I want to take and the path God wants me to take intersect.” For me, the difference between finding and not finding the courage, between stepping up or not stepping up, was having the support of one person. Superheroes can do it alone. The rest of us need someone to help us step up.

At this moment, the Jewish People are in the midst of 2 faces of courage:

  • Passover – leaving Egypt was our moment of physical courage. The path led to physically unknown
  • Shavuot – facing Mount Sinai was our moment of spiritual courage. The path led to the spiritually unknown

There are many faces of courage. It’s hard to step up. We all need someone who has our back.

Who needs your support to step up? Who can you help? Who needs a listening ear to be able to step up, take the step that s/he needs to take, and face the unknown?

And that young woman? I married her.

Rabbi Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Soulful Jewish Education in 2008. Through its online program, Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals across all denominations in bringing Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and to our lives. He lives in Efrat, Israel, with his wife Sandra and their six children.