I am not Malala. I am not 17 years old. I am not from Pakistan. And I didn’t defy the Taliban in the name of education for myself and other young women. I didn’t get shot in the head for my efforts and miraculously survive.
Not only am I not Malala, but, as I read her autobiography, I can’t possibly imagine being her. I can’t imagine the primitive nature of her childhood in Pakistan – the lack of running water and electricity, basic needs that we take for granted in the modern world. I can’t imagine being called upon to risk all for sake of women’s education, of paying such a high price.
Thank God I can’t imagine it. Thank God we live in another kind of world, in a time and place where the education of women is taken for granted (to the point that in America today, more women than men are getting a college education). Thank God, life in Pakistan, life at the mercy of the sadistic and violent Taliban is not our fate. Her specific fight is not our fight.
And we pray every day that the Almighty doesn’t test us. Because we might not pass. We might be found wanting.
And yet, on the other hand, in leading our relatively comfortable lives, there is something missing – the opportunity to really take a stand for what we believe in and to really mean it.
None of us can imagine being Malala and yet we have the same potential latent within us. I know almost nothing about Malala’s DNA but I do know something about ours, our spiritual DNA that is.
We are the descendants of women and men who put themselves on the line, who were willing to risk all – for learning Torah, for the Jewish people, and for a relationship with God. And we have inherited their spiritual DNA. We too have this unrealized potential.
At the time of Purim, Esther risked her life, her marriage and her personal spiritual fulfillment to save the Jewish people. She wasn’t shot, but she did pay a very high price nevertheless, forced to abandon her marriage with the righteous Mordechai and live forever in the palace with the evil Ahashveirosh. She paid this price to save her people – and to bequeath to us, her descendants, that inner strength and ability.
Malala’s story is an inspiring one. She’s a young girl with more courage than many of her elders. She had grit and determination and the tale she tells is a fascinating one.
All stories are themselves an education. They teach us about people. They broaden our vision. They show us what’s possible.
Esther has always been one of my favorite characters in Jewish history. I have always empathized with her predicament and been empowered by her courage (is it connected to the fact that my full name is Esther Emuna?).
But sometimes it’s hard to believe that I share her courage and potential.
It took a young girl from Pakistan to help me realize it’s true, that even today we may all be called upon to take a stand for what we believe in, to put ourselves on the line for our people and our faith – and that even today, we can do it!