This week at Heschel we observed the middah “to be humble,” which we learn from the verse “Moshe was more humble than any other person.” Last night we celebrated the 18th Toronto Heschel School Grade 8 Graduation. I spoke with our graduating class about leadership and humility.
The grade eight’s have been our school leaders, and like Moshe they have exhibited many leadership traits this year. I have been incredibly impressed by their leadership on Student council, their self-advocacy, their creative problem solving, their fortitude on the sports field (I coached a number of them in soccer), their empathy, and their respect for one another and their teachers.
When we think of someone who is humble, we might imagine someone who is quiet, who avoids the limelight, who does their work unnoticed in the background. And certainly, there are many leaders who do this, and this kind of leadership is incredibly important.
And I want to suggest another way that humility can show up – and that is by stepping up, taking risks – when you do something that might be new, or innovative and you don’t worry too much about what others might think or say. Yesterday a group of grade eight students helped lead a laughing prayer – a laughing halleluyah: This is a prayer that we do in our meditation minyan, partly to experience tefillah as fun, but also to experience prayer as a way not to take ourselves too seriously, to be humble through our joy and even a bit of silliness.
A person who takes risks, and doesn’t worry if others might laugh or say something, is humble – because he or she doesn’t put themselves or their pride in front of doing the right thing, trying something new, leading in a new direction. This is the kind of humility expressed by A.J. Heschel, Martin Luther King, and many of the human rights activists studied by our grade eight students this year.
Sometimes, being humble means restraint and holding back, and sometimes being humble means stepping forward and speaking out.
My blessing for the graduates as they go forward is to be humble in both of these ways: and, whether quietly or with a strong voice to stand up for what is important, to embrace and support the kind of respectful, inclusive Judaism they have embodied here at Heschel, and to continue to be the mensches you have grown to be.
Yashar Kokhakehm, Mazal Tov, and look forward to seeing you as alumni visitors in the Halls of Heschel.
Shabbat Shalom to everyone. Wishing you all a joyous and adventurous summer.