The following was a d’var Torah given at the occaion of a Regional Man of the Year Dinner and is reproduced here with permission of Rabbi Malomet.
Dear Men and Women, but especially, dear men,
There comes a moment in the Jewish education of every man, where he encounters a text from Pirke Avot which on its surface seems simple, but in our time has become very complicated.
It is a statement of Hillel: U-VEMAKOM SHE’EIN ANASHIM, HISHTADEL LIHYOT ISH. (2:6)
It means literally, “in a place where there are no men, be a man.”
But it’s a complicated text for us. Because it is such a strongly gendered statement, many translators have neutered it. Even our Sim Shalom siddur falls into the trap and says, “Where there are no worthy persons, strive to be a worthy person.”
But that’s not what it is saying. It’s not about being a worthy person; we have plenty of texts for that. This is about being a man. And it is from a great man who understood what it meant to be a man, and was unashamed and unapologetic about the masculine gender in his statement: “Where there are no men, strive to be a man.” As men, we need our tradition to remind us that we have to strive to be men. Especially when more and more men, especially young men, have become confused and puzzled by what it means to be a man.
What does it mean to be a man?
What does it mean to be a real Jewish man?
Let me present five ways to be a real Jewish man.
1. To be a real Jewish man, means to participate in TEFILAH. It means that your membership in a minyan-tefilah is mandatory. Repeat after me:
Minyan membership is mandatory for men.
There are men in this room who understand this and who are present day in and day out at minyan. They are backbone of our shuls. They are the finest men in our shuls, and everyone here knows it.
Being a man means you show up. Being a man means you are present and accounted for. For too many men egalitarianism has become a convenient excuse for them to stay home. Being a man means showing up before you are asked. Being a man means that you put the needs of the community above yourself. Real men go to minyan. Real men make minyan a mandatory part of their lives. If there is one thing that you can do to enhance your life and the life of your shul it is to go to minyan.
2. Real men study Torah. Study stimulates strength of character. Study stirs empathy. Study stresses self-awareness. And study stimulates connection to others. Study of Torah is essential for our lives as Jewish men. If there is one thing that you can do to enhance your life as a Jewish man, it should be the study of Torah.
3. Real men do Mitzvot. It’s not “the suit that makes the man,” or “the hat that makes the man,” it’s “the mitzvah the makes the man.” Be a man who is committed to mitzvah. Choose your mitzvah and specialize in it. Be proud of it and model your mitzvah to others.
Okay, so far we have:
1. Real men go to Minyan.
2. Real men study Torah.
3. Real men do Mitzvot.
Here are two more.
4. Real Men do Tzedakah. Real men don’t wait to be asked to give. And real men give generously. Real men share. Real men work for tzedakah projects. They see people hurting they mobilize. They see someone in need, they come to the rescue. Real men work for justice. They are POALIM. Poalei Tzedek. Real men stand up for Israel especially when they see Israel under attack and when they see the hypocrisy of the world that could care less about the thousands massacred in Syria, and the intolerable rain of terror rockets in Southern Israel, and yet condemns Israel for self-defense.
5. Lastly, real men have a SHEM, a name. A SHEM TOV, a good name. Honesty, integrity, kindness. Being a great husband, a great father, a great mentor, a great friend. All the things that give you a good name in life.
How do you become a real Jewish man?
TEFILLAH, TORAH, MITZVAH, POEL TZEDEK and SHEM.
Let me make it easy for you to remember:
TAF, TAF, MEM, PEH, SHIN. Scramble those letters and what do you get?
MISHTATEF. MEM, SHIN, TAF, TAF, PEH.
Which means a participant.
Participate in TEFILA, in minyan.
Participate in Torah. Study.
Participate in mitzvah through the Men’s Club projects.
Participate in Tzedakh by giving generously and speaking out for Israel.
And if you do all of that, and have a SHEM TOV, a reputation of living your life with integrity, then you’ll be a man.
UVEMAKOM SHE’IN ANASHIM, And in a place where there are no men, you won’t have a problem being a man. You’ll know exactly what it means.
Rabbi Eliot Malomet Highland Park Conservative Temple – Congregation Anshe Emeth, Highland Park, NJ.