On Courage: Shabbat Message from Cantorial Soloist Michelle Auslander Cohen

“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.”

                                                                                                     –Rabbi Chaim Nachim of Breslav


Close your eyes. Take a moment. Think of the word courage.

What comes to mind?

Many things come to my mind:

-A soldier running into battle

-A person advocating an unpopular opinion

-Refugees leaving their homes in search of a safer existence

As we contemplate the idea of courage for the coming week in our Omer process, it’s important to recognize that fear exists in many situations, on many levels.

I feel immense gratitude that my blessed life allows me to focus my attention on facing internal fears and not on facing fears in life threatening situations.

There was a specific situation early on in my life, however, that pushed me to step into fear of the unknown. I draw on that experience every time life presents similar challenges.

The first college I attended, at 18 years old, was the prestigious music school, Peabody Conservatory. I majored in vocal performance and knew about as much as any 18 year old could know about opera.

A few months into my first year at Peabody, I came to know an incredible vocal mentor named Taso, who lived an hour and half away from Peabody.  I found myself taking 2 buses and 2 trains every weekend to study with him. I was a sponge to all of Taso’s teachings and soon came to know Peabody was not the right place for me and needed to study under Taso full time.

The problem was that Taso was an adjunct professor of a school with no reputation in the musical field.  He was somewhat a hermit and in a high-risk field where reputation is everything, this switch was terrifying.

You can imagine people’s reactions when I told them I wanted to leave the safety of a known career path: a famous voice teacher at a prestigious school, in order to study with a man no one had heard of at a school that barely had a music program. In the music business, who you know is often more important than what you know. But I had a deep need to absorb what Taso had to offer, my intuition demanded it of me.

This story could go on and on, but what’s important to note is that I did eventually transfer schools and Taso remains one of my dearest mentors.

Was it the right choice? It probably depends on how one defines right. What I will say though, is that I feel I am doing what I was meant to do, with whom I was meant to do it with. I have absolutely no regrets. With all my heart and soul, I feel content.

Ben Zoma says:

Who is rich?

The one who is appreciates what they have…

(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

I think of this time in my life when I think of courage because looking back on that young girl who chose the road less traveled, I realize now that it took a lot of courage (as Elphaba from Wicked would say) “to close my eyes and leap.” I learned what it meant to listen to my instincts and  trust myself above all else;  which is a lesson I remind myself of every day and teach to my children.

I have never run into a burning building or fought a physical battle and I’m not sure I could muster the courage to do those things. I am humbled by those who do.  I have however learned the value of inner faith and courage when facing the many challenges that life brings.

I would love to hear your stories about the fears you face in your life and how you find the courage to face them; this Tuesday at Lunch and Learn either on Zoom or in person at the Schaefer Family Campus. There is so much to learn from each other.

“Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing….”

And let us say, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Michelle Auslander Cohen
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