Have Courage, Faith, Chutzpah and Humility – and the World will be Yours!
June 16, 2017 by
Today, I had the honor of presiding over the graduation of the Class of 2017. We are sending them off prepared academically, socially, and spiritually – and primed for their next adventure. We know they will do great things in middle school, high school, and beyond – and have a real impact on the world. We hope they visit often and and tell us about it! Below are reflections and advice to the graduates from a school filled with people who shaped them and love them:
In the parasha (weekly Torah portion) that we will read tomorrow, Sh’lach, Moshe sends twelve spies to the land of Canaan to scout the land and bring information. Upon their return, ten of them deliver worrisome news: the land is indeed fertile and flowing with milk and honey, but its inhabitants are strong and powerful, giants to the eyes of whom the spies look like grasshoppers! Disheartened, B’nei Yisrael, the Jewish People, turn once again upon Moshe and complain about being taken away from Egypt to die by the sword of the inhabitants of Canaan.
But there are also other voices. Two of the spies, Yehoshua Bin-Nun and Caleb Ben Yefuneh, describe what they saw in very different terms. Yes, the land is fertile and flowing with milk and honey and its inhabitants are indeed strong, but B’nei Yisrael will be able to defeat them and take possession of the land. Yehoshuah and Caleb believe that, with God’s protection, B’nei Yisrael will prevail.
Twelve spies, two visions. The reality they all saw was the same – they went together to the same land at the same time – but their perceptions varied significantly. Most of them saw insurmountable obstacles. A few saw a challenge worth fighting for and worth winning. The ten spies and all the people who believed in their pessimistic view did not enter the Land of Canaan; B’nei Yisrael spent forty years in the wilderness while the new generation grew up and matured. The two spies who understood the challenges and what it would take to overcome them did enter the land, leading the new generation into it.
The two spies were not in the majority. They didn’t follow the crowd; they didn’t try to fit in. They chose the hard path, the road less traveled. It took courage and more than a little chutzpah to believe that they could succeed. And it took faith – in God, in themselves, and in the cause – to roll up their collective sleeves and get to work.
Looking at the world differently takes courage and chutzpah, and when I look at our students, exemplified by the Class of 2017, I see they possess plenty of both! They also have the willingness to work hard and to put themselves to the test. And they have a very strong sense of community. The Class of 2017 is a cohesive class, with many deep friendships and a sense of mutual responsibility.
There are many situations in life when we find that we see reality differently from others, when our conscience tells us that what everyone else is doing is not necessarily what we should do. We may not be able to convince others to see reality the way we do, but we must trust ourselves, our values, our hearts and our minds. I know our new graduates have what it takes to make good decisions and wise choices, to look at challenges and see them as worth fighting for and worth winning. All of the spies saw the same reality and none of them had control over it. But each one of the spies had control over the attitude he would have toward what he saw, and that made all the difference. We may not always have control over our reality or other people’s behavior, but we will always have control over our attitudes. And many times that is the most important thing.
So here is my advice to the Class of 2017:
First: Have faith – or, as you said last night at your Graduation Dinner, “don’t stop believing.” Even when it looks almost impossible to succeed, if it is the right thing to do, go for it.
Second: Work for it. Faith alone will not do the trick. You need to make it happen – give it all you have.
Third: Take action, volunteer for hard things, take good risks, be the one to lead – always for the right reasons and for the right causes, and never to fit in or follow the crowd.
Lastly: Keep the courage, the chutzpah, and a healthy dose of humility – and the world will be yours.
Class of 2017, the last graduating class from JPDS-NC – we know you will make us proud. We can’t wait to hear about your next adventure and the mark you will make on the world; please come by and tell us. Although the school will have a new name, a new logo, and a new building –underneath it all, we will be the same school that guided you, loves you, and always believes in you.
Mazal tov to all our graduates and their families! And Mazal tov to all our students and faculty on an extraordinary year.
I wish our entire school community all a Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful summer.