They say that "no man is a hero to his valet." His valet sees him with his guard down -- when he is tired, grumpy, unsmiling. His valet knows how he really feels about those guests, that evening, the upcoming deal. But why should that prevent his ascendance to heroic status?
Do heroes never let their hair down? Do they only and always model perfection? What exactly does it mean to be a hero? And are grandiose actions a prerequisite?
Heroism is overcoming the obstacles placed in our paths on the way to achieving a spiritual objective.
In discussing the story of Esther at Purim, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller defines heroism as overcoming the obstacles placed in our paths on the way to achieving a spiritual objective. Esther had to risk her very existence to plead for the salvation of the Jewish people. In the enlightened city of Shushan, venturing to see her husband, King Achashverosh, without his specific request was a capital offense -- unless he raised his scepter to her. Despite the daunting odds, upon learning of the decree to kill her people, Esther approached the king and put her life on the line. That was definitely a large obstacle!
But not all impediments are so dramatic. What if your friend is stuck at an appointment and she asks you to pick up her children? Maybe you had other plans. Maybe you were even looking forward to some down time. Maybe you just don't feel like it. But you go anyway. Aren't you a hero? You overcame your own exhaustion, inertia, desires, to do a kindness for a friend. Isn't that what heroism is all about?
Every time we bite our tongues in an argument with our spouses, every time we turn criticism of our children into praise, every time we clamp down on those back-stabbing words of gossip, aren't we heroes?
Although we have been taught that "familiarity breeds contempt," that is clearly not always the case. Marriages and families withstand this challenge all the time. And many children (once they get past adolescence!) cite their parents as their heroes and role models.
But didn't they see them at their worst? Probably. But they also saw them struggle and rise above it. They watched their father be patient with his children and kind to his friends even in the midst of a devastating business setback. They've seen their parents lose their temper -- and then apologize. Argue, and back down. Be cordial to others while dealing with private personal trauma.
If you're feeling happy and sociable, it's no big deal to be friendly. But if you're not and you do it anyway, you're a star. If you read to your kids though your eyes are shutting and encourage your husband even when your own spirits are low, you're climbing the ladder. (Music from "Rocky" begins on cue.)
Yes it's heroic to rescue people from a burning building, to donate your kidney to a needy recipient, to shelter the homeless and teach the ignorant. But not all heroism occurs on such a grand scale. For some, getting out of bed each day requires heroic-sized willpower. For others, going consistently to a job they don't love in order to support their family demonstrates bravery and determination.
We were recently the recipients of tremendous kindness from someone we barely knew, someone whose wife had just given birth to a severely compromised infant. "Sorry it took me a little longer to return your call today," he said. "They just put the baby back on a respirator." To think of us and our needs in the middle of this crisis. Not a hero?
We look at others and admire their poise and confidence, their words and accomplishments. And we have no idea the cost.
Heroism is not a one-time stand; it's a lifestyle.
We haven't a clue about wars waged, battles overcome. Maybe he's a powerful CEO. It's taken years of humility and patience. Maybe she's a terrific teacher. She's learned to ignore her frustration and focus only on the positive. Maybe she's a great mother. And with tremendous willpower and determination she's learned self-control, to focus on what she can stand rather that what she can't. None of it comes easily. That's why it's heroic.
We can all be heroes. Every step of spiritual growth is part of the heroic struggle against darkness and evil. Our personal battle, our personal chance for glory.
Let our children see that heroism is not a one-time stand; it's a lifestyle. Although Esther did have her grand heroic moment, her real accomplishment was her ability to live day to day in the palace, as the wife on an evil king, and maintain her composure, equilibrium and her relationship with God. She focused on future good and not present pain, dedicating herself to a drawn out mission on behalf of her people that must have caused her daily anguish. That's where we can really learn from Esther. That's her lasting legacy to us.
On Purim we all have the opportunity to build on Esther's strength and commitment and to access our latent heroic potential.