web analytics
October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Parshat Toldot

Hertzberg-110113

Later this month we will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Despite the passage of time the two-minute speech still resonates with us and remains one of the most effective speeches in history. In just over 270 words Lincoln changed the nature of the Civil War. I have written previously about this aspect of the speech. In this column I would like to focus on a different leadership lesson from the events surrounding the Gettysburg Address, namely, never underestimating the potential of even the smallest opportunity.

As is relatively well known, Lincoln was not the main speaker that November day. Edward Everett was scheduled to deliver the main oration. In fact, Lincoln might have been invited as an afterthought since the cemetery dedication was primarily a state and not a federal affair. Lincoln’s invitation was issued on November 2, 1863, with the dedication scheduled for less than three weeks away. David Wills, who oversaw the project, sent Lincoln the following late invitation. (Note the restrictions placed on Lincoln.)

After relating in his opening paragraph the need for the cemetery Wills writes: “These grounds will be consecrated by appropriate ceremonies, on Thursday, the 19th instant. Hon Edward Everett will deliver the oration. I am authorized by the governors of the different states to invite you to be present, and participate in these ceremonies, which will doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive.”

In the third paragraph Wills formally requests Lincoln to speak. “It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred (sic) use by a few appropriate remarks [italics added].”

There are historians who maintain that the event’s organizers expected Lincoln to decline the invitation due to his busy schedule. But Lincoln saw an opportunity – an opportunity to deliver a game-changing speech. Whereas other people might have taken umbrage by the timing and tone of the invitation, Lincoln kept his eye on the prize. What’s more, Lincoln kept within his prescribed parameters. Once Lincoln began speaking he could have spoken at length. We can hardly imagine people asking the president to stop in the middle of a speech. Yet Lincoln respected his invitation. As history demonstrates, he certainly limited his speech to a “few appropriate remarks.”

Leaders must always be on the lookout for opportunities, no matter how small and insignificant they appear. The Torah at the beginning of this week’s parsha teaches us this lesson very clearly. Upon returning from a hard day of hunting and killing, Esav describes to his brother Yaakov his absolute and total exhaustion. To further aggravate his state of mind, Esav is also famished (perhaps an indication of a less than stellar day at the office). At the time of Esav’s arrival Yaakov was cooking a lentil stew. Seeing this, Esav demands that Yaakov pour him some of his red food (25:30).

Yaakov, who up to this point was focused on cooking (according to Rashi the food was for Yitzchak who was in mourning for Avraham), senses an opportunity. Unlike Esav, Yaakov valued both the responsibilities and privileges of the first-born’s birthright. It was Yaakov’s dream to acquire these rights so that he could serve Hashem in the highest capacity possible. But throughout his life, he had to bide his time. Now, suddenly the moment of truth presented itself. According to Seforno, Yaakov picked up on the fact that Esav could not even identify the food item he was cooking. Instead of referring to it by its name he simply called it by its color. Yaakov realized that Esav’s major flaw was that he was addicted to his work. Seizing the moment, in true carpe diem fashion, Yaakov explained to Esav that if he is so absorbed with his hunting that he can’t even recognize simple food, he would never be able to properly learn and pay attention to all the details involved in serving Hashem. He proposed that Esav sell him his birthright in exchange for food. Esav, realizing that Yaakov had a point gladly agrees. To solidify the deal, Yaakov has Esav take an oath.

Following the transaction Esav eats his food and mocks the birthright. It is interesting to note that Rashbam posits further that Esav truly thought he was getting the better part of the deal. He considered that as a hunter, whose life is constantly at risk, it was likely he would die before his father anyway. Therefore, when an opportunity to sell the birthright presented itself he jumped at it and immediately profited from the sale.

From Yaakov’s perspective, when that day dawned he had no reason to believe that anything monumental would occur. But things suddenly changed. Esav returned home and Yaakov, reading his mood, identified the opportunity and reached for his goal. What Yaakov didn’t do was dismiss the moment, because, after all, what could be accomplished over a pot of stew. Yaakov’s faith in G-d and his deep understanding of human nature joined forces with his eye for opportunity and changed the course of history. Yaakov taught us that life is not guided by long episodes – rather it is guided by significant ones.

Leaders must heed this lesson. They must always be on the lookout for opportunities regardless of how they come packaged. Lincoln changed the nature of the Civil War with a “few appropriate remarks.” Imagine how different America would be had Lincoln let his ego get in the way or had questioned what could be accomplished with a small speech. “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” tragically might have perished from the earth.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division and is an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Parshat Toldot”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Terrorists attack Israeli soldiers with a Molotov cocktail in Arab village near Ramallah.
Palestinian Authority-American Shot Dead while Trying to Kill Jews
Latest Judaism Stories
Greenbaum-102414

Noach was the lonely man of faith living in a depraved world, full of wickedness.

Parsha-Perspectives-logo

Avraham became a great man during the 175 years of his life, while his predecessors became increasingly wicked, despite staggering knowledge, during their lifetimes of hundreds of years.

Rapps-Rabbi-Joshua-logo

Shem realized that he owed his existence to his father who brought him into the world.

Daf-Yomi-logo

Law-Abiding Citizen
‘That Which Is Crooked Cannot Be Made Straight…’
(Yevamos 22a-b)

The flood was not sent to destroy, but to restore the positive potential of the world.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

Why is there is no mention of dinosaurs, and other prehistoric animals, in the Torah?

Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible.

Surprisingly, my husband and one son arrived home over half-an-hour earlier than usual. I excitedly shared my perfect-timing story, but my better half one upped me easily.

Noach felt a tug, and then heard a rip. His jacket had been caught on the nail, and the beautiful suit had a tear.

Boundaries must be set in every home. Parents and children are not pals. They are not equals.

Noah and his wife could not fathom living together as husband and wife and continuing the human race

The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit

Our intentions are critical in raising children because they mimic everything we parents do & think

A humble person who achieves a position of prominence will utilize the standing to benefit others.

More Articles from Rabbi David Hertzberg
Hertzberg-101014-Oval-Office

Realizing that his death was immanent and he had only a few more moments, Moshe focuses on doing the most important thing: he runs to Bnei Yisrael and blesses them.

Hertzberg-092614

Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.

Eisenhower understood that motivated men will fight much harder and longer than unmotivated men.

When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, England declared war on Germany. Thus, by the end of the first week of August all the major powers of Europe were at war.

Although famous for his smile, Ike Eisenhower actually harbored a volcanic temper that he worked arduously to control.

Why did we merit exiting the gas chamber alive when so many others did not?

Without a plan of action, a leader will never be able to lead his followers anywhere, no matter how important the destination or lofty the goal.

Like Dempsey and Gates, leaders must always be cognizant of the costs involved in their decisions – even when the costs are less than human life

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-toldot-4/2013/11/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: