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What it Means to be Brave

08/28/2020 02:27:12 PM


The word brave gets bandied about quite a lot.  It is used so often and in so many situations it becomes unclear what truly being brave means or looks like.  This past week I believe we witnessed a true act of bravery in sports as teams across the NBA and MLB chose to forfeit their games and not play.  They did this to bring attention and pressure to the atrociously unjust shooting of a black man in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Charles Barkley, the retired Hall of Fame basketball player, once quipped, “I am not a role model”.  On Wednesday the NBA and MLB players took their role in our society as role models to show us all how we ought to act when we witness injustice.  In contrast, Jared Kushner derided the players for not playing. He dismissed the act by pointing to their financial stability as a luxury to their being able to not play.  However, I disagree; I believe this act was brave and our tradition supports this position.

The book of Joshua is about the conquest of the land of Israel by the ancient Israelites.  In the opening chapter, the phrase Chazak V’amatz (be strong and be brave) is repeated four times.  The first two occur when God speaks to Joshua about leading the people and taking over for Moses. Be strong and be brave, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

Be strong and very brave. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

 The third time this phrase is repeated in the first chapter occurs when God speaks to Joshua of inevitable set-backs that will occur during his time as leader.

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and be brave. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The fourth and final time these words are said in Chapter 1 are when the people speak to Joshua.  They say:

18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and be brave!”

When a word or phrase is repeated in the Bible, we need to take note of it.  The Israelites standing on the brink of war are told to be strong and brave.  They have a lot to lose, but also a lot to gain.  They are willingly putting themselves in harm’s way for the greater good of their society.  It is that combination of sacrifice for the greater good and acting against one’s own self-interest or self-preservation that makes an act truly brave. 

When people voice opposition or dissent against acts that aim for equality, they are reinforcing millennia-old systematic racism.  By trying to invalidate the actions of minorities or athletes speaking truth to power, those people are acting out of their own self-interest.  They are trying to maintain the status quo and hold onto their own power.

To Mr. Kushner, while it is true that some of the players would be financially able to weather the consequences of not playing, this is not true for every player on an NBA or MLB team.  For example, Lakers teammate Dion Waters is making $500,000 and J.R. Smith $289,000.  While nothing to laugh at, this money needs to sustain them, their families, and employees not just this season but for the future as well. Also, do not forget about taxes and what happens if they get injured and cannot play again.  Also, financial loss aside, to lose out on a dream of being a world champion is a sacrifice.  Most of us are not fortunate enough to be in that situation, but if we were we would not give it up so easily.

When anyone works to silence and invalidate an act of standing up for justice by saying it is not brave, they are trying to maintain inequality.  They are trying to keep the status quo by putting out a fire.  It is our job to laud the acts of bravery from the NBA and MLB players so that we can fan the fires of change.  Justice cannot be silence. Any act towards justice needs to be amplified.  I am proud of what they all did and commend them.  Let us all keep working towards racial justice, equality and equity and strive to follow these players’ example and be strong and be brave.

Thu, September 24 2020 6 Tishrei 5781