Somewhere after midnight, in my wildest fantasy; somewhere, just beyond my reach, there’s someone reaching back for me… I need a hero. “Holding Out for a Hero,” song by Bonnie Tyler
He was not an easy child, to say the least.
He was an upstart, a contrarian, a revolutionary even. He had courage, moxie – chutzpa, they would later call it. He was clever, and calculated and, most of all, perpetually inquisitive. He delved into places that were taboo; he asked the most probing, powerful, and even embarrassing questions.
His neighbors found him bothersome, his parents were shocked and repulsed by his obstinacy. In fact, they even acceded to his would-be demise at the hands of the absolute demagogues who tolerated no disobedience.
But the determined child was not deterred; he saw a world that had no direction, no moral compass, no grasp of its cosmic implications. He looked deep into the heavens and into his own heart, and there he found God. And so he resolved to take this gigantic orb that was spinning seemingly without purpose and direct it to a greater truth and a greater good.
Kings and conquerors would try to block his path, but to no avail. He had now become a man with a mission, and he would not rest or submit to resignation until he had forged a new reality for his own family and for all of humanity.
The story of Abraham
This was Abraham, who stared at the stars and sensed eternity. He had no illusions about this most formidable task of teaching the world of One God; he knew that it would result in his becoming an Ivri, literally standing on one side of the divide, with the rest of the world on the other.
He would encounter hostility and hysteria from those who abhorred change. But he forged on, undaunted, and discovered that a firm sense of conviction – accompanied by acts of kindness and hospitality – could work wonders. He would become God’s partner and change the world forever.
SHE WAS handsome in the extreme, lauded far and wide for her stunning beauty. She seemingly had everything: good looks, a famous husband, fortune, and fame. But one thing was missing; she was childless. Her “friends” tried to comfort her: “Be happy!” they said. “You are possessed of unequaled face and form; even in your advanced age, you are the envy of all other women.”
But she would have none of it; she would not give up. Yes, she knew it was an unattainable goal; no one in recorded history had ever delivered a child at her age. But she also believed that miracles were sewn into the fabric of life; she was certain that the God who created life could also dispense it in every scenario.
And so she packed all of her faith and trust and tears into a prayer that she sent daily into the heavens, sure that an answer would someday return to her. And one glorious day, she was blessed with a child, one who would keep alive the family’s legacy.
This was Sara, who taught us that the impossible was possible; just that it was a bit harder than the ordinary. Sara, who never let go of her dream, who would not be swayed or seduced by the glittery lure of the material world. She understood that immortality is embodied not in gold or silver but in the sons and daughters who carry on our life’s work.
Sara’s struggle was echoed by Hannah, who shared her same dream. She had a loving husband, but – like most men, even including the Great Kohen – he did not understand what she was going through, and he offered solutions rather than sympathy.
Hannah found her strength and solace in prayer, and she would become the master teacher of how to connect to the divine. She would reveal to all of us that the secret of tefila (prayer) is selflessness, dramatically proven by her pledge to devote her precious child to lifelong service in the House of God. Her self-sacrifice would not only give the world a great prophet, but it would also epitomize the posture that true prayer must assume.
There was another prophet as well. He had a fierce passion for his people and his land, but he was a seer with a blind spot. He could not see that even the most depraved of peoples could reform, and that even if they ultimately reverted to their evil ways, they were not beyond salvation. He had to learn that as dreary and depressing as the world could be, one cannot escape it but instead must embrace it. Jonah had to descend into the deepest part of the ocean to reclaim his faith and learn that God is everywhere – inside fish and inside man – and that God’s plan – indeed, all of the events of history – cannot be preempted nor perfectly predicted.
THESE ARE the eternal, ephemeral heroes the rabbis chose to accompany us in the Torah readings throughout the High Holy Days. Their struggles, their stories are what these coming Days of Awe are all about: chances and challenges, setbacks and successes, foibles and failures, disappointment and deliverance. If they somehow persevered, then so can we. If they found their place in God, so can we. If they took the human experience and turned it into a pathway to a more meaningful life, a more worthwhile life, a more satisfying life, then so can we.
They are the paradigms of what our leaders can and should be, and they define their mission – too often unfulfilled – to inspire us to greatness and raise each of us to a level one step higher to the Almighty.
Up where the mountains meet the heavens above, out where the lightning splits the sea,
I could swear there is someone, somewhere watching me.
Through the wind and the chill and the rain, and the storm and the flood,
I can feel his approach like a fire in my blood. I need a hero.
May we be inscribed for a life of health, joy, great leaders and peace.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. email@example.com