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Bravery Stems from the Soul

It is precisely the quiet, soulful ones who have the ability to tell the truth in a way that will be heard.
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April 11, 2024
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We are living in a time that calls for an almost existential bravery. Lies need to be corrected; real history needs to be taught; our most fundamental principles — freedom, justice, equality — need to be relearned. So why is it, you may have asked yourself, that many of the most seemingly confident people — those who incessantly crave the spotlight — have been silent about these lies, or worse?

It’s a question I have grappled with in the 10 years I have been writing about antisemitism. And I’ve finally come to a somewhat obvious conclusion: Bravery has very little to do with self-idolatry, whether in the form of boasting, selfies, or narcissism. Bravery stems from the quiet confidence of a well-nourished soul.

I recently attended a bat mitzvah that well confirmed this point. Despite the crass world that surrounds her, both online and off, the young woman on the bimah was preternaturally poised. She seemed to be listening to an inner voice that gave her the strength to rise above, to understand what it means to be part of an ancient people. 

And then with quiet dignity, she gave one of the most powerful speeches about Israel. She spoke from her soul, and as a result she was able to touch the souls of many, to inspire their bravery as well.

Could all of this be happening to the Jewish people right now, most especially the antisemitic response to Oct. 7, because so many have given in to the idolization of self-idolatry? The question nagged at me the rest of the evening. But I was also heartened. Nourishing the soul is something tangible that can be done. I have been thinking about this since my son was bar mitzvahed at a very unsoulful synagogue — yes, many synagogues are part of the problem — and I now have to renourish his soul.

Some initial thoughts:

1. Surround yourself with souls of beauty. People who have no need to be the center of attention. They are the quiet ones, the ones who do mitzvahs both large and small with no desire to take credit. Their dignity and serenity inspire both in those around them. Ridding ourselves of the toxic and narcissistic also allows us the space to renourish our own souls. To be the force that’s needed right now, for whatever comes next.

2. Nourish your own soul with nature, creativity, artistic beauty. It’s not a coincidence that these dark times have been accompanied by a dearth of artistic brilliance. Creativity also stems from the soul, and one literally can’t create if one is too busy thinking about how many “likes” it will get on social media. 

3. Don’t get caught up in the toxicity of self-idolatry. This is a mistake that I have made in recent years. Rather than turning away from the ugliness, I have tried to understand it: Why would a man zoom in on his wife’s or daughter’s breasts and then display those photos on social media? The explanations run from today’s amoral culture to his personal insecurities — but they don’t matter. I can’t fix that — no matter how much it is hurting his family.

What I can do is continually try to nourish the souls of those who want to be nourished. That’s what I did when I first started on social media—post soulful art, poetry, design, etc. But this time it will be Israeli art and design, helping to “normalize” the country in a way that should never have been necessary. But that is the task that G-d is giving each of us, and we need to be up for that challenge.

It’s not a coincidence that our greatest heroes have also been the most soulful, from Abraham, Moses and David to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Great leaders are rarely narcissists. In many ways, they’re mutually exclusive.

It’s not a coincidence that our greatest heroes have also been the most soulful, from Abraham, Moses and David to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Great leaders are rarely narcissists. In many ways, they’re mutually exclusive.

But how can quiet confidence be heard in a world inundated with shock, porn and degradation? Many of us have been told that our lack of desire to compete with the loudest and ugliest on social media is a weakness. But as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it in discussing Moses’ lack of oratory skills: “What we think of as our greatest weakness can become, if we wrestle with it, our greatest strength.” 

Because it is precisely the quiet, soulful ones who have the ability to tell the truth in a way that will be heard — who are able to “tell people what they do not want to hear, but what they must hear if they are to save themselves from catastrophe,” wrote Sacks. I believe many left that bat mitzvah thinking about Israel — and the larger problem that Hamas and Hezbollah represent — in a different way. Perhaps they will now understand that today silence is not an option. 

And it will all be because the quiet dignity of a 13-year-old was able to touch their souls.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is editor in chief of White Rose Magazine

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