The “power of one” idea is an energetic challenge. One of my favorite examples of the power of one is a rabbi from Kansas City whose story I came to know when I had the honor of occupying his pulpit. That rabbi was Samuel Mayerberg of blessed memory.
By the time the Pendergast political machine was brought down and Pendergast sentenced to prison, Mayerberg was in many ways the only one left fighting the battle. This battle against political corruption ultimately scared many of the rabbis’ colleagues and friends from the fight. But Mayerberg kept moving forward and eventually the power of one generated a groundswell of support that gave Kansas City a chance at new life.
We all know that Moses is the “one” in the Exodus narrative who represented God to Pharaoh and to the people.
But the obvious question is “why?” Our tradition loves to gush about Moses’ humility. He was slow of speech, awkward and public; five times during his recruiting discussion with God he questions God’s wisdom in choosing him. Walking humbly with God is the key ingredient in making Moses the man of the hour, but God knows that humility isn’t going to be enough to lead the people out of bondage.
We learn from an 18th-century rabbi, Joshua Horvitz that sometimes a person simply needs to rescue his self-confidence. Horvitz believes it is possible that each person’s name can also be a verb, which in turn is an action primary to that person’s purpose in life. In Moses’ Hebrew name “Moshe” Horvitz recognizes the Hebrew word meaning “one who draws out; rescues.” So, if Moses is going to fulfill his name and be a “rescuer,” he’s going to need more than humility.
It mattered that Moses lived a life of power and privilege in his youth as a prince of Egypt. It was in Egypt that he develops his swagger and found his groove. Later on in life he uncovered his humility and his passion. It was then that he heard the voice of God. Moses was chosen because he was more than just humble.
Rosa Parks was chosen by her local civil rights leaders because she was more than just humble. Esther Brown was more than just humble. Raul Wallenberg needed much more than his humility to save as many lives as he did. And from the stories I read about Rabbi Mayerberg, no one ever questioned his humility, his courage or his passion.
We seem to live in an age that encourages far too much swagger and as a result compels many to embrace far too much humility. We’ve got too much “macho” and too much sensitivity. These extremes in our culture are undermining our relationships with each other. These extremes are undermining the strength of our people. And they are undermining the strength of our nation.
In a person that is full of him/herself, in a community that is full of itself, and in a nation that is full of itself, there is no room for God. In fact, God won’t even try to enter a heart that is full of itself. Without the swagger we cannot do God’s work. Without humility doing God’s work won’t matter one way or the other.
How ironic then, that the power of one is found in partnership with the one God.
Rabbi Joshua S. Taub of Temple Emanuel is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.