Ben Zoma says:
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination...
(Talmud - Avot 4:1)
When we think of examples of bravery, we think of people like the race car driver who travels at 160 miles per hour, or the mountain climber who scales Mount Everest, or the sky diver who jumps out of a plane.
But our sages don't cite such feats when discussing bravery. Rather it is the one who conquers his Yetzer Hara -- our self-destructive tendencies. What is this "Evil Inclination"? Is it a little devil with a pitchfork perched on one shoulder -- while an angel, in opposition, sits on the other?
Within all of us exists an inner dialogue, not between good and evil, but between body and soul. The soul is connected to God and wants to do what is right, while the body wants to do what is easy. To live for what our soul wants takes effort. The one who stands up and makes that effort exemplifies true bravery.
THE FIERY FURNACE
Abraham, our forefather, had many tests in his life, and our sages say that each one was more difficult than the last. At one point, the evil King Nimrod threw Abraham into a fiery furnace because of Abraham's beliefs. (With Divine intervention, he survived.)
Later, God tells Abraham to leave his home and go to another land, the Land of Israel.
But if the tests were progressively harder, that means moving to an unknown land was more difficult than risking death in a fiery furnace! How so?
With Nimrod, Abraham was willing to make that one ultimate gesture and give his life for God. That was one level of pure sacrifice and commitment. But leaving his homeland to go to another land was an even greater level. Because greater than giving one's life for God is living each day for God.
Real bravery is getting up each day and making the effort to do what is right. That means standing up and fighting against what is holding us back in life, what is preventing us from realizing our true potential.
Pinpointing that enemy, making the effort, and ultimately being victorious calls upon our personal courage. Your soul wants to get out of bed and accomplish great things with the day. Your body wants to sleep. Your soul wants to take time to learn wisdom; your body wants to tune out and watch TV. Your soul wants commitment and responsibility; your body wants to run away.
Your true essence is your soul. Harness the unlimited energy it possesses and you will come to know what courage is all about.
Next installment: "Who is rich?"
Adapted from "Remember My Soul," by Lori Palatnik (Leviathan Press, Pikesville, MD, 1998)