What Does It Mean To Inspire?



Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs



Last week, as many of you know, I was given an honor that rivals any other that has ever been bestowed upon me. The Forward, a prestigious newspaper with a global audience, named me as one of the most “Inspirational Rabbis” in North America. The phone call announcing the honor came out of the blue and, I have to admit, I sat stunned for a few minutes until I could process the news that had just been given to me. You see, very few people go into any sort of helping profession for accolades or awards. You know the old saying, “Being a rabbi is no job for a good Jewish boy (or girl).” It’s a tough, all consuming, often draining job and the reward is seeing the difference that you can make in someone’s life. I don’t do what I do with the expectation or even the desire of being told that I am inspiring! (But, wow, it sure does feel good!)

Since receiving the news from The Forward, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be “inspirational” or “inspired” by someone. Often, when we think of inspiration, we think of the great leaders in history who have inspired us – MLK Jr., Yitzhak Rabin, Gandhi – to name just a few. We have trained ourselves to think of inspiration on a global level, to think of inspiration as coming in huge packages and making immense differences. But what I have learned about inspiration from the people who have inspired me is that some of the most inspirational actions come from the most ordinary of people. Some of these people have downtrodden pasts. Some of them have faced insurmountable odds. And all of them have felt a calling, a passion and they all took a chance to do something different, hoping to make a difference in this world.

Back in 2014, R. Kay Green wrote an article in The Huffington Post in which she stated the following:

What it means is that too many of us fail to see the greatness within ourselves. Too many of us assume that a person is only great if he/she makes national headlines. But press isn’t necessary. In fact, sometimes the most inspiring people in the world go completely unnoticed. What inspires are the people who do something to better humanity in their own small corner of the world. They don’t need headlines or accolades. They need only to know that they stepped up to make things better. Understand that you can be an inspiration to others, no matter what you feel you have or have not achieved. Even if you feel that you have not yet reached the endpoint, and even if you feel like you have reached a low point, you have the ability to inspire. No matter who you are, giving back and inspiring others comes equipped with many benefits. You never know who you’re going to impact when you give — and you never know who might be in position to reciprocate if you ever find yourself in a time of need. Giving back leaves a legacy that will live on far longer than you will. You will be amazed at the way inspiring others makes you feel. In fact, it is the only feeling that rivals the one you get when you realize you have achieved your dream.

You (yes you!) are an inspiration. By being the wife, mother, husband, partner, father, sibling, child, friend or caregiver of another, you are an inspiration to someone. By being in relationship with one another, we inspire, we motivate and we raise each other to greater heights. So the next time you read a story about a person that you consider to be truly inspirational, don’t ask yourself if you can accomplish the same great things that that person has accomplished. No, congratulate yourself on the great things that you have already done – the lessons you have already taught and continue to teach and the joy you have given and continue to give to others every day.

An inspirational quote that I recently posted on Instagram (@findyourish) caught my attention:

Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect. (Zoey Sayward)

Right now, amid all the stress and the mess and the noise, is the perfect time to inspire. Go do it! Make this moment perfect.

Thank you to all who reached out and congratulated me for being named an inspirational Rabbi. Your kindness means the world to me. It truly did inspire me.

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