I Need Some Chutzpah!

Hello, I’m one of your grateful students. My name is Roman, want to say thank u for all your work and wisdom.

Can u explain notion of Chutzpah and some tips how to develop and improve it. Probably u know some books that have deep explanation of the notion.

Thank u a lot.


Dear Roman,

We must ask you to have a little patience as we begin our answer with words that seem to have little to do with your question.

In 1909, the first kibbutz was established in what is now the modern State of Israel. A kibbutz is a collective where all property is shared and the group takes precedence over individuals and individual families. In those days, many of those who immigrated to the land of Israel were Socialists from Russia and the kibbutz is a Socialist utopian dream. Today, few kibbutzim exist anymore and those that do are based much more on a capitalist and sometimes even a religious foundation.

Why do we tell you this? Because many people associate a kibbutz with Judaism because of the misguided, and often religiously alienated, founders of the modern State of Israel. Yet, were you to ask us to tell you tips about kibbutzim, the first thing we would have to say is that they are, at their basic level, in opposition to how God wishes us to live our lives. The Torah lauds both family integrity and private property.

What does this have to do with chutzpah, a word that has entered the English language with synonyms such as gall, audacity, effrontery and boldness? Well, rather than telling you how to develop and improve chutzpah, we have to tell you to run away from it! The word (and its root) does not appear in Scripture other than two references in the book of Daniel where it is based in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

The classic illustration of chutzpah is a man who murders his mother and father and then pleads for mercy from the judge on the basis of his being an orphan. That is not something that makes God smile. We are not meant to be brazen and cheeky but rather humble and modest.

However, we assume that you meant chutzpah mistakenly thinking of it as acting with confidence and conviction. You are looking for the quality that allowed Moses to confront Pharaoh, which enabled Joseph to assume control of the Egyptian economy and that gave a spine of steel to the numerous Jews over centuries who accepted death rather than betray their God.

That quality is not chutzpah, but rather strength and integrity. When you know what is right and are able to distinguish meaningless stubbornness from principled stance, you do not allow yourself to be moved by anyone or anything. How best to develop those traits? That is an ongoing process that goes hand in hand with Bible study. Seeking and committing to a wise mentor and counselor is invaluable as well since we all can be blind to our own biases. Surrounding yourself with those who act the way you wish to act is also essential; just as cowardice is contagious, so is courage.

By asking the question, Roman, you are showing a desire to be a greater person. There are wonderful biographies of people that you can read which will inspire you, but in the final analysis, working on yourself each and every day is the only way forward.

Be strong and of good courage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?


 Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

9 thoughts on “I Need Some Chutzpah!”

  1. What a wonderful answer to a legitimate question! I am also learning from your readers comments. Good stuff-thank you!

  2. This topic has been heavy on my mind since reading the Exodus parasha with the bad report of the spies and Joshua and Caleb’s “different kind of spirit” and their positive report to believe G-d and to move forward…even Caleb’s attitude in his older age to take a hill for his daughter.

    I’ve been praying for more of a “Happy Warrior” perspective with all the political and social craziness. It has been (*and is) infuriating, frustrating, and confusing at times.

    *Thank you, Rabbi Lapin and Susan, for your resources to encourage us during these times and our 5 F’s.

    It has made me focus more on the importance of prayer and study. I have reconsidered my involvement in activities and how firm my stances should be to both fight off the hoards of evil coming against our Judeo-Christian and American heritage.
    And I should be prepared to encourage others in their faith and walk with G-d and while understanding what is happening politically and socially.

  3. Catherine Guzovich

    Thank you for an answer that is easily understood. Like many people, I thought chutzpah meant to be confident and bold, to stand up for yourself and others when being threatened or mistreated.

  4. Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

    Once again, you have done us a great service. Thank you, and thank you, Roman, for your humble boldness in asking your question. All of us readers are edified today because of it.

    Now that you have explained its real meaning, the word chutzpah even sounds like something one should spit out of ones mouth! (Imagine saying it disparagingly.) Nevertheless, it’s colorful and easy to remember, so Rabbi, I must ask: is there a healthy substitute for this word that’s wormed its way into the vernacular, a Hebrew word or phrase that we can keep in mind for that quality of “strength and integrity” we so need to practice and demonstrate?

    Susan Pistorio

  5. If you could physically see my reaction to your answer, you would see me confidently lean back a little (very cool like) with a knowing smile and in a extra cool voice I would only say, “nice”, with a congratulatory nod of my head.

    1. We love the imagery, Louis. A few decades ago, it would have included a long puff on a cigarette, but we will eschew that now.

  6. May I add two points, R’ Lapin (to edit or omit as you see fit, obviously)?
    The Talmud says somewhere that somebody is bashful will not learn; one must push past fears to grow.
    And more personally: My son Eliyahu was a 7-year old student at an elementary school that you (R’ Lapin) founded some 35 years ago. His Jewish studies teacher was the late R’ Yosef Rubanowitz, whom Eli loved. One day I was speaking with R’ Yosef on the playground. My Eli saw us and ran over full speed toward R’ Yosef to greet him… then stopped short with nothing to say, so he smiled and walked back to play. R’ Yosef turned to me and made a lovely distinction I’ll never forget: “Wonderful! He’s deferential but he’s not shy.”

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