Chutzpah is the New Charisma
by Rabbi Evan Moffic
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word best translated as “gall,” or “guts.” It is a willingness to break conventions. To try something different. To trust your instincts and vision.
It’s Mark Zuckerberg dropping out college and spending 20 hours a day writing software. It’s Barack Obama running for President after two years in the Senate. It’s not necessarily wise. But great achievements depend on it.
The Bible has a lot to teach us about chutzpah. It’s part of the reason we study it. Three figures, in particular, teach us about chutzpah. We can learn from them how to bring more chutzpah into our own lives.
The Chutzpah of Abraham: The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are in trouble. Their residents revel in wickedness. They are beyond the point of redemption.
To prevent their wickedness from spreading, destroying them is the only option. God reveals this view to Abraham. How does Abraham respond?
With a challenge! “What if,” Abraham pleads, “there are fifty righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah? Will you sweep those innocents away with the guilty?” God says no.
“What about 40?” Abraham continues. God relents again. Abraham questions God all the way to the number 10, where he stops.
The story here is not about Sodom and Gomorrah. It is about the character of Abraham. His deep sense of righteousness prompts him to question, to challenge, even as he comes to understand and accept God’s plan.
The Chutzpah of Moses: The Israelites are in deep trouble. While Moses is atop Mount Sinai, they build a golden calf, an idol to worship and praise. When Moses finds out, he is furious. So is God.
God tells Moses the Israelites have failed. They are not worthy to make the journey to freedom. Perhaps God should destroy this people and start over with just Moses?
Moses declines the offer. He asks God to reconsider. “You led these people out of Egypt. You gave them your word. For the sake of Your honor, You need to continue to guide them,” Moses says. And God follows Moses’ suggestion.
The rabbinic interpretations of this story emphasize Moses’ chutzpah even more. They imagine God countering Moses’ initial challenge by saying, “I am duty-bound to destroy idolators. It’s the law of Torah.”
Thereupon Moses, according to rabbis, wraps a cloak around his head and offers to absolve God of His sin in breaking the law of Torah and not destroying the people. Moses “forgives” God’s leniency.
In other words, the rabbis imagine that for a moment, God and Moses switch places for the sake of humanity!
The Chutzpah of Job: Job does not immediately come to mind when we think of chutzpah. Most of the Book of Job pictures him as supremely obedient. Even as he suffers terribly, he does not lash out at God.
Yet, he does not acquiesce. That’s what Job’s false comforters did. They tell Job he deserves his fate. He must have done something wrong that only God understands.
Job does not give in and accept their argument. He does not give up and denounce God. He simply keeps on keeping on. That takes chutzpah.
In Judaism, faith is not simple obedience. Neither is it quiet acceptance. It is an ever-evolving combination of trust and chutzpah.
Rabbi Evan Moffic serves as rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL. He loves synagogues and the way they bring together members of every generation to study and experience Jewish wisdom and tradition.
Originally posted at Simple Wisdom