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Chuzpah and Jews


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Sivan 8, 5779
What is Chutzpah ? to ask more? what the source of Chutzpah? where does it come from? What force rules it? how to direct Chutzpah into correct and godly? how make it godly?
Chutzpa is brazenness and is viewed in Judaism as a generally negative trait. On the other hand, our rabbis taught us that the Jewish people are innately the "boldest" among the nations (Beitza 25b), and the Maharal explains that, like all traits, God gave them to us to be used in the time and place where they are positive and beneficial. For example, there's a fine line between being argumentative ("if you have 2 Jews, you get 3 opinions") which is negative, and being idealistic and analytic, which are positive and were always developed and encouraged in our Torah study. Similarly, when anti-Semites attack a Jew or Israel, we don't believe in "turning the other cheek" like the Christians, but rather fighting evil for the sake of the victim and society, as well as for the sake of the violent person himself (!), to do him a favor and deter him from his evilness (which will aid him immensely, even in his family life…). Not to mention the fact that otherwise, we wouldn't be around too long… True, for almost 2,000 years in exile, the Jew fought more often with his passport than with swords, but already 1,800 years ago, our rabbis wrote in the Mishna (Sota 9, 15), that in the period preceding the redemption, when Israel will return to our Land (i.e. today), there will be a renaissance of Jewish boldness, necessary to execute the revolution of redemption, to rediscover truths, revive the Israeli army, etc. This boldness serves us well in yeshiva study, not to mention hi-tech, the sciences, the army and in general, today's world respects and rewards innovative thinking and new ideas, which begin with daring. Nevertheless, we must always remember that humility, kindness and even shyness are also important character traits, which are also inherently Jewish (Yevamot 78, e.g. Jews tend to be neurotic and blame ourselves, even when it's not our fault…), and are meant to harmonize with boldness, in order to get the proper balance. For example, it is said of Jewish humor, "It ridicules grandiosity and self-indulgence, exposes hypocrisy, and kicks pomposity in the pants. It is strongly democratic, stressing the dignity and worth of common folk". This takes both boldness and humility. As always, first the thesis, then the anti-thesis, and finally, synthesis.
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