Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

“Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.” MLK Jr. (Sh’lach 06/17/23)

“Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.” MLK Jr.

Wondering why my garbage wasn’t picked up yesterday morning, I realized I need to be more aware and sensitive. Yesterday was the Federal holiday of Juneteenth: Passover for Black Americans.

We’ve had two Bar Mitzvahs in the past two weeks. When outsiders come to the services, I try to present a running commentary of our liturgy. In one of our prayers, we thank God for redeeming us from Egyptian slavery. This gratitude is not just reserved for Passover. Our spirituality is such that every day we are supposed to give thanks for the gift of free will, of being masters of our own lives.

The morning prayer goes as follows:

“Truly, You are First and Last, and we have no king, redeemer, or deliverer besides You. You redeemed us from Egypt. Adonai, our God, You liberated us from the house of bondage. You slew all their firstborn, and You redeemed Your firstborn. You split the Sea of Reeds, and You drowned the wicked. You caused the beloved ones to pass through while the waters covered their enemies.”

In the evening, we say:

“God performed miracles for us and vengeance upon Pharaoh, signs, and wonders in the land of the Egyptians. He slew all the firstborn of Egypt and brought out His people, Israel, from their midst to everlasting freedom.”

So if I’m grateful for the freedom that we obtained 3300 years ago, how much more so should I be receptive to the emancipation that our fellow Black Americans received just 160 years ago. Next year, I’ll be careful to leave my trash cans in their place while also trying to honor this special day.

This past Shabbat, our Bar Mitzvah boy, Jack S., gave a wonderful speech on Parshat Shlach. In our Torah reading, twelve men are sent to the Land of Canaan to spy on the land and determine a course of conquest. Ten of them return scared out of their wits (Numbers 14):

“We came to the land you sent us to; it indeed flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there. Amalekites dwell in the Negeb region; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell by the Sea and along the Jordan.”

We cannot attack those people, for they are stronger than we.”

It’s hard to comprehend how people who saw God bring ten plagues upon the Egyptians and split the sea for them would have any fear of human beings. Perhaps they believed that the miraculous stage of their redemption would end once they entered the Promised Land. They didn’t feel up to the fight if they were going to have to win this war themselves.

On the other hand, Moses and God believed they would succeed. The spies’ fear paralyzed them.

Without realizing that Juneteenth was around the corner, our Bar Mitzvah boy quoted two powerful, Black motivational speakers.

Les Brown once said, “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”

Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, embraced these ideals: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If God desires it, He will surely bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, and God is with us. Have no fear of them!”

Because of their faith and courage, Caleb and Joshua were the only two male Israelites of their generation to fulfill their dreams and live in the Land of Israel. A hundred years after the emancipation proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision: “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” Juneteenth is a partial fulfillment of that dream. One we should all strive to honor.

Not being paralyzed by fear is a teaching from our parsha. It’s also a lesson we continue to learn from our fellow Black Americans who continue to fight against discrimination. One the great Chasidic rabbis, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, phrased it this way: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear, to have no fear at all.”

Wishing you a courageous week,

R’ Neil

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803
516-935-5454|Email Us