Today is the day of Gevurah within Netzach, when we have the chance to contemplate the meaning of power within the energy of our personal mission, values, and principles.
Power is a crucial and touchy subject in our society. We want it, and we’re afraid of it, and most of the time, we think of power as something external. We feel that it derives from something – or someone – else. Money brings power, and so we have to go get it. So do positions of authority, and so we have to work to attain them. We view the office of the president of the United States as conferring the greatest power possible on its occupant. We acknowledge that a professor has power over his students, and a doctor has power over her patients. A wealthy woman has more power than a homeless man in the street.
Certain physical characteristics can also accrue a perception of power to those who possess them. We assign an enormous amount of power to physical beauty. People who are physically stronger are understood to have power over those who are less so. Someone who has modern weapons is more powerful than one armed with a bow and arrow.
But there is another kind of power that we rarely talk about. This is power that derives from somewhere deep within the person. It is a kind of power that is based on the strength of the person’s spirit, the power of her convictions, his dedication to his mission, her commitment to living life according to her values and principles for the benefit of the greater good. We all have access to this kind of power, and we don’t have to go anywhere to get it – only ourselves. And this is what Day 23 of the Omer, Gevura she b’Netzach, asks us to consider.
Eli Wiesel is such a person. Wiesel, who had experienced the brutality of Hitler’s murder machine, became an uncompromising spokesperson for human dignity. When the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize, it referred to him as a “messenger to mankind.” In his acceptance speech Wiesel said:
I have tried to keep memory alive… I have tried to fight those who would forget… I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
Wiesel lives that mission. It is this mission, his principled life, his dedication to humanistic values that have turned this man into a model of fortitude and spiritual power. This, despite the fact that at one point he was a prisoner at Auschwitz – a place of ultimate powerlessness, where everything you possessed had been taken from you, including, for most, life itself.
Mahatma Gandhi is known as a political leader who led his people to independence. But what was the source of his personal power? What turned him into such a beloved figure among his people? Toward the end of his life, Gandhi lived virtually as an ascetic, presenting an image of a thin, scantily-clad man who hardly had a penny to his name. Throughout his life, he had systematically given away his every possession – the very things that many believe make one more powerful. He rejected the use of violence and refused to arm himself or his followers. And yet, such was his personal power that it forced the British to come to the negotiating table with him. They respected him even as they viewed him as their nemesis.
Gandhi was a profoundly spiritual man who was committed to living what he preached. Asked to deliver a message to the people of India on a visit to the state of Bengal, he famously responded: “My life is my message.” His personal truth – a combination of his spiritual mission, values and principles – was his true power.
Nick Vujic is another figure whose power is derived from inner strength, multiplied by his mission. Born without limbs, he found himself in a position of total disempowerment, depending on others for his every basic need. And yet, he overcame these extraordinary circumstances and became an inspirational figure for millions across the globe. It is the strength of his spirit and humanity that brought him that which we ordinarily consider to be sources of power themselves – money and success – not the other way around.
This is the kind of power that Day 23 of the Omer encourages us to consider. It is the power that is derived from us living our mission and from being our values and principles in the name of greater good.
What role do a personal sense of mission, values and principles play in your own life? In which ways do these allow you to make good judgments in order to pursue the right causes, to do the right thing? When we contemplate these questions, we address the essence of today’s day of Gevura she b’Netzach.