The Hebrew word for courage, Ometz lev or Ometz, which means strength, is a core ethical and spiritual trait in most Jewish stories. It is naturally endowed in human beings in the divine image. Moses instilled his successor Joshua with courage in the book of Deuteronomy to lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land alone by charging him. Moses told Joshua to be courageous and strong. Every individual receives a similar charge at the start of every new Jewish year. Psalms 27 was recited during the penitential season around the high holidays, urging people to strengthen their hearts and be strong. This story encourages us to build the inner strength we need to face whatever challenges we face in our lives.
Many people in the biblical narrative embody the quality of knowing the right thing to do and the strength to work on it. Abraham depicts similar courage to confront God on behalf of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (Redmond, 2020). Shifrah and Puah, who were Hebrew midwives in Exodus, defied Pharaohs’ genocidal orders and delivered Hebrew babies safely into the world. Nachshon walked directly into the water until it got to his nostrils when the Israelites were plunging the sea. Queen Esther endangered her life by revealing her true self as a Jew to king Ahasuerus. These instances depict having the courage to do the right and pushing through it. However, practicing courage and doing the right thing does not require risking one’s life or even need fearlessness.
Judaism teaches about a life of holiness, practicing courage, and adhering to what the bible talks about social justice as passed down by the prophet. The biblical narrative talks about the whole world as a narrow ridge; hence human beings have nothing to fear. Courage is not about repressing or denying fear, but the vital principle of courage is choosing not to scare ourselves beyond the fear we already experience. We learn that courage involves moving forward regardless of our fear and not magnifying our anxieties. Doing the right thing is highly dependent on observing the fact that we are afraid without judging our emotions, allowing us to act in a manner that is not determined by that fear. That is strength, doing that which is right despite facing challenging emotions. Most people would have acted similar to the heroic bible figures and Jewish history if put under similar situations. We can practice courage in large or small actions when offered an opportunity in our own lives. Cultivating courage incorporates applying our energy to stand up and protect those at risk.
We practice courage whenever we intervene on behalf of those unable to do that for themselves, risk personal loss or embarrassment, confront others, speak the truth, expose our vulnerabilities, take an unpopular stand, and leave our comfort zones. Jewish tradition teaches us that the source of this courage lies in every heart, within each of us. Jewish affirmations about humans and God intersect in the Torah aspect as the human existence ordering in the divine direction. The Jewish ethical concerns are striking in that the affirmation that God is an ethical obligation source and is himself the paradigm of it. Jews believe in only one God, which is the creator. This aspect gave them some form of a future hope as they expected God to intervene in most situations. Believing in one God hence gives clarity by knowing exactly what is expected. The basic agreement on the basics of life and religion allowed them to set a covenant with God that made doing the right thing seamless. Emulating the same aspects allows us to understand that God cares about every aspect of life.