Michael Jordan once said, “Not every flying hero has a cape.” Few of us can fly like he can, but he makes an important point about heroes. As we celebrate the heroism of the Maccabees and think about miracles of old this Hanuka, we should take a moment to ponder our own modern notions of heroism. Who are today’s heroes?
Arguably, today we don’t have heroes. We have celebrities, glittering personalities with brand name attraction. Once you introduce a cape and tights into the hero persona, you lose the sense of ordinary, every day heroism that is lauded in Jewish life. The poet and artist Brian Andreas perhaps said it best:“Anyone can slay a dragon...but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.”
In Hebrew, the word for hero is “gever.” As an infinitive, we would say that a hero is someone who overcomes difficulties with resolvem - “le-hitgaber.” In the Hebrew Bible, we use the term “chayil” and attach it to a man or woman of nobility or valor. We find this portrait of quiet heroism in two places in Scriptures: the book of Proverbs and the book of Job. In the spirit of Maya Angelou’s distinction between heroes and she-roes, Proverbs 3:10-31 offers us the woman of valor. Take a few minutes one day to read this passage in English, and you will find a woman who is hyper-productive, who opens her arms to the poor and needy, who clothes her family, who speaks pearls of wisdom, who knows the difference between beauty and integrity.
Take a look at Job 31 and you will find the male version of this kind of heroism. As if in a court of law, Job argues in his own defense that he spent a lifetime cultivating his moral strength and humanity. He kept his eyes to himself and resisted temptation. He did not “walk in falsehood” nor “deny justice” to his household and those who worked for him. He did not keep his bread to himself “nor let the eyes of the widow grow weary” with suffering. In his protestations he says, “...no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.” He did not rejoice over his wealth nor keep his money to himself. He did not gloat over his enemies nor wish them trouble. He made sure that all who worked with him had their fill of his meat, the most expensive part of the meal.
Job creates a picture of a life of purpose and generosity. He, like the unnamed woman of valor, was a person who opened his eyes to the anguish of others. His life was a conduit for service. Job felt confidant that he could make a case for his goodness, asking the question that all of us must ask when we have an opportunity to do right: “What will I answer when called to account?” That is the question the hero asks.
Funnily enough, Florence Nightengale used an appropriate image to blend quiet heroism with our holiday: “I am of certainly convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.” Drop the cape. Not everyone can leap buildings. Who has to? We need to be every day heroes who can elevate ourselves through goodness and service.
What will you answer this Hanuka and beyond when called to account?
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanuka!