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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon Shavuot - 5 sivan 5780

Sermon Shavuot ASKT #540  “A little bit of Jewish Chutzpah - Why we need some"

A certain heretic always sought out the rov of a small town to give him a hard time and challenge the Torah.  One time the heretic challenged the rov – “Do you honestly believe that Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on top of a mountain in a desert with no food or water?”

The rov said: “I really don’t know, but when I get to heaven, I’ll ask him.”
The heretic says with an evil grin: “But suppose Moses isn’t in heaven?”
“Well,” the rov says: “Then YOU ask him!”


R. Shmuel Borenstein, in his Shem MiShmuel,  quotes his grandfather, the Kotzker Rebbe an insight that is relevant to the reading of Megillas Rus.


He says that the Jewish people did not have it in their nature to be kings.  If you think about it – we were and are a family – we thought of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – the Avos and Imahos as our heroes.   Even Moshe Rabeinu – who in some ways was considered a king – in reality he was more of a master teacher, not a king.  The Ibn Ezra has a famous approach in which he says that the reason why Moshe had to grow up in the house of Paroh was that he needed to have a backbone that someone brought up as a slave would never have.  He had to feel like he was a prince in order to lead the Jewish people and act like a king.  But in general the Jewish people were not by their nature, prone to the leadership qualities of a king.  The Shem miShmuel explains that the same unity of purpose and mission that we so highlight over Shavuos – the trait of k’ish echad bi’lev echad – like one man with one heart – does not lend itself to the stature and gravitas with which a king holds himself.  When you are focused on how everyone is equal and together – that does not work with the need to hold oneself to be higher that royalty requires.


Because of this, the Jewish people’s first king, Shaul, was lacking a trait that is needed in small measure by a king – the trait of Gaavah – of pride, or haughtiness of chutzpah.  Many examples from Shaul’s life demonstrate this – when he was being selected to be king – he was anointed by Samuel and just went home and told his family nothing about it.  Another time they were looking for him to declare him king and he was hiding among the baggage.  Another time he failed to wait for Samuel to come to bring an offering because the people were getting antsy.  And most famously, he allowed the people to keep the sheep and plunder from the nation of Amaleik, despite being told to destroy it. He bowed to the people’s wishes. Samuel says to him – ‘are you so lowly in your own eyes?  You are the head of the tribes of Israel!”  And therefore despite Shaul’s great qualtities, his family succession would come to an end.


Therefore said the Kotzker, the line of Jewish kings that would have a lasting succession would need to have an ancestor from Moav.  It was necessary that Dovid be descended from Rus, who was from the nation of Moav.   The prophet Isaiah wrote - שָׁמַעְנוּ גְאוֹן-מוֹאָב, גֵּא מְאֹד

We have heard of the pride of Moav – he is very proud.  The tribe of Moav is known for its pride, it’s outspokenness, its chutzpah.  Even the name Moav – means from the father – which was a pretty frank way for the daughter of Lot to name her son who was born from her union with her father.  Rus also displayed a great amount of temerity and chutzpah in her approach to her mother-in-law Naomi.  As my wife pointed out in her class this past week – Naomi told Rus 5 different times – I don’t want you to come with me.  Go back to your people.  And Rus disregards all of this and says one of the most famous lines in all of Tanach – “wherever you go I will go, wherever you stay I will stay, your people are my people and your God is my God. “  That took a lot of gumption.  A lot of chutzpah. 


Dovid HaMelech and his line needed a bit of that pride and chutzpah in his makeup to be a true king.  Today the Jewish people do not have a king.  But we certainly manage to have some chutzpah.

I think this chutzpah has helped keep us a strong and long lasting people.  And while Gaavah – haughtiness- is a bad trait.  A little bit of Chutzpah can be a really good thing.    


When we think of our ancestors, those who have come before us this year on Shavuos and at Yizkor – we think about how they had the temerity and the pride and the chutzpah to stay Jewish – in a world that has never made it easy.   We know that they would have tremendous pride in the fact that we as a people continue to show pride in our people, in our Yiddishkeit, in our Torah and in our special relationship with God.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782