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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Bnei Yisrael’

Parshat Pinchas

Friday, July 13th, 2012

When national tragedy struck on November 22, 1963 Vice President Lyndon Johnson was inadequately prepared to assume the presidency. The Kennedy people had done their best to sideline him throughout the first three years of JFK’s term. Thus, he was not in the know in regards to many of the important initiatives Kennedy had proposed, but that would now become his responsibility. Additionally, there was substantial personal ill will between LBJ and Kennedy’s people – especially JFK’s younger brother Bobby, the attorney general.

Despite this handicap, LBJ managed his transition to power in the most professional way possible. According to Johnson biographer Robert Caro, the six weeks following Kennedy’s assassination represented LBJ’s finest time as president (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, 2012). He used all the different types of power at his disposal to assume the presidency, stabilize the nation’s nerves and pass some of the last century’s most controversial and important legislation.

There are many lessons we can learn from this episode about ensuring a proper transition of power—even if the need arises suddenly. First, whatever the personal and political issues involved in a relationship, the person selected to replace the leader must be informed of all major issues. That LBJ succeeded so well in this area, is a testament to his abilities.

A second lesson involves LBJ’s successful effort to encourage a good number of JFK’s people to remain in his administration. This not only enabled a continuity of government but allowed LBJ to tap into their talents and intelligence. Following his return to Washington D.C. from Dallas and his televised remarks to the nation, LBJ flew with National Security Advisor Bundy, Secretary of Defense McNamara and Deputy Secretary of State George Ball, back to the White House.

During the ride LBJ discussed with them the impact of the assassination on the country’s national security. Realizing that he could not afford to lose them, Caro describes how, “leaning toward the three Kennedy men, hunched forward in his intensity, he said, ‘President Kennedy did something I could never have done. He gathered around him the ablest people I’ve ever seen—not his friends, not even the best in public service but the best anywhere. I want you to stay. I need you. I want you to stand with me.’ The job had been done” (p.365). LBJ had found the words to appeal to these men’s sense of patriotism and ego. In the eleven-minute helicopter ride he succeeded in enlisting these three able people to remain in his administration and stay the course.

A third lesson on power succession can be learned from LBJ’s young military aide Lt. Richard Nelson. He realized the difficult situation the new President was in. He was now the president and needed to perceive himself and be perceived as such by others as quickly as possible. To this end he removed the seal of the vice president from LBJ’s office door in the Old Executive Office building. “Dragooning a White House guard to help, Nelson ran down to the basement, found an old presidential flag and some seals, and installed them in 274 (Johnson’s office)—‘just the symbols, that when he walked into the Executive Office Building office he was walking into the office of the President, not the Vice President’” (p.367).

These important aspects of leadership transition are highlighted in this week’s parsha. Following the events surrounding the daughters of Tzlafchad’s request for a land grant in Eretz Yisrael, Moshe turns to Hashem to appoint a new leader. Realizing that a new era was approaching rapidly Moshe wanted the new leader appointed while he still had the opportunity to train him, inspire him and inform him of all the national and religious issues he would soon be responsible for. Moshe understood that for the best transition possible, nothing could be left to chance. The new leader had to be brought up to speed. Proof of this is seen in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua when Yehoshua reminds the leaders of Reuven and Gad about their obligation to serve as the lead troops in the conquest of Israel. Yehoshua’s command of all the details of this arrangement, demonstrate how Moshe kept him in the leadership loop.

Balak: The Attempted Takeover

Friday, July 6th, 2012

We often sit through the haftorah wondering, “Why do we read the haftorah anyway?” Krias HaTorah of the parsha makes sense—we read a portion of the Chumash each week so that we finish the entire Torah over the course of the year. But we’re not reading a portion of Navi each week so that we can finish all of it on some kind of schedule.

The purpose of the haftorah is for us to become familiar with insights and themes from the Navi. The goal of this column is to enhance that familiarity.

Let’s play a bit of word association.

I will mention a word and you will relate (to yourself) the first words that come to your mind.

Micha.

Can I guess what you thought of?

Wicked? Idolatrous? Story of Jews’ failure at the time of the Shoftim?

Something like that, right?

Well, all that is true. There was an idolatrous man during the Shoftim era with a famous idol, pesel Micha, that many Jews worshipped. But there was another Micha as well, the Navi Micha in Trei Asar, the Twelve Prophets. This Micha lived at the time of the more famous prophet, Yeshaya, at the time of the first Beis HaMikdash.

We read from the 5th and 6th perakim of Micha for this week’s haftorah and while sometimes the link between parsha and haftorah is not perfectly clear, here Micha mentions the episode of Balak and Bilaam attempting to curse Klal Yisrael and Hashem thwarting their plans. In fact, Micha helps us understand the true gravity of the threat a potential curse from Bilaam posed.

We may be tempted to read Parshas Balak as a quaint, if not comical story of two classic, almost cartoon-like characters trying to accomplish something and things never seem to go their way. But the way Micha describes the event, Klal Yisrael was in great danger and needed Hashem’s special salvation to escape the wrath of Bilaam.

Micha reports what HaKadosh Baruch Hu told him to tell Klal Yisrael as to why they should strengthen their service to Him. What are the “talking points” G-d wants mentioned? The miraculous splitting of the Yam Suf? The manna? Revelation on Har Sinai? The sun stopping in Givon? Nothing of the sort.

“I brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slaves. I sent Moshe before you [to lead you] and Aharon and Miriam with him. My people, please remember the terrible things that King Balak of Moav planned to do. And remember what Bilaam, Beor’s son, answered him. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal. Then you will know [and remember] the righteousness of Hashem.” (Micha 6:4-5)

Apparently, from all the varied events Hashem could have wanted Klal Yisrael to recall the most powerful is the story of Bilaam’s curse.

Why? Aren’t the follies of Balak and Bilaam a harmless and almost entertaining event?

Apparently not.

Though it may not appear this way on the surface, Bilaam had a strong relationship with Hashem. As the midrash writes (paraphrased from Tanna d’bei Eliyahu, Rabbah, Chapter 28): “In one regard, Bilaam’s prophecy had an advantage which Moshe Rabbeinu’s did not. He saw Hashem’s ways more clearly.” In addition, Berachos 7a tells us Bilaam knew how to calculate when Hashem would be “angry” and more susceptible to the midas hadin which could be utilized against Klal Yisrael.

Obviously, the fact that Hashem revealed Himself to Bilaam was not some random act. Think about the following.

The Rambam says (Hilchos Yesodei Torah 7:1): “Prophecy can only be received by one who is extremely wise and learned, has mastered proper character traits, never lets his evil inclination overpower him in any matter in the world, and battles and defeats his evil inclination constantly.”

This must be true for Bilaam as well. Otherwise, he could not have merited prophecy. The Bilaam we know of is post-prophecy. Before Bilaam became a prophet, he was super-righteous, holy, kind, and godly. He would analyze and criticize his own actions and continually work to grow spiritually. However, once granted prophecy, Bilaam was unable to handle it. Prophets are not created in a vacuum; the only reason Moshe became the greatest of all prophets was because the spiritual genetics of the Avos, Imahos, and the entirety of Klal Yisrael produced a Moshe. Lacking a solid spiritual structure, Bilaam was not able to deal properly with prophecy and became corrupt and wicked.

Parshat Shelach

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Captain Chesley Sullenberger, of “miracle on the Hudson” fame, recently wrote a book on leadership entitled, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage From America’s Leaders. Instead of focusing on his own heroic performance, landing Flight 1549, he decided to focus on a number of contemporary leaders who have influenced events in some way. The first person he wrote about is Admiral Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Allen is best known for assuming command of the government’s rescue and relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

What fascinated me about Admiral Allen was his description of an advantage the Coast Guard has over other organizations when it comes to leading inter-agency operations. “One of the things we are really good at—and this is an ‘Allenism’—is being bureaucratically multilingual…. We can talk military to military, we can talk incident command system to local fire chief, we partner across the federal agencies, we can work with state and local governments. We are really good at partnering and collaboration” (p.15).

Every organization has its own priorities, ways of doing things and professional jargon. Fire Departments think in terms of fire houses and ladder and engine companies. Military organizations think in terms of Forward Operating Bases and armored personnel carriers. Fire departments worry about the number of alarms, incident safety and back burning. Military organizations worry about infiltration, reconnaissance and encirclement. It is therefore little wonder that when these disparate groups find it necessary to work in a joint effort, their differences can impede progress. The Coast Guard, by virtue of its versatility and broad mission portfolio, is able to effectively communicate with their partners allowing for greater and more efficient integration.

Sullenberger explained that Admiral Allen is a firm believer in such integration. “When individuals, departments, or organizations act in isolation without regard to their impact on others, it is known as a silo mentality. I noted that Allen seemed to be a leader who specialized in breaking down silos and organizing a united front when faced with chaos” (p.15).

A leader must not only know how to communicate, but he must know how to do so with different groups of people in ways that are appropriate and effective for them. When it comes to leadership communication—one size does not fit all. Yehoshua, who together with Calev were the only spies to remain loyal to G-d and report the truth about the land of Israel, ultimately became the communicator par excellence. In fact, in Parshat Pinchas, when Hashem instructs Moshe to appoint him as his successor, Yehoshua’s primary qualification for the job is his ability to deal with people on their own level and in accordance with their unique personalities. Throughout his career, Yehoshua always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it.

After the spies delivered their terrible report about the land of Israel, Bnei Yisrael panicked. Despite Calev’s attempt to thwart the rebellion, they continued to cry and demand a return to Egypt. At this point the Torah relates (14:6) that Yehoshua and Calev made one last try to limit the damage caused by their co-spies. Since the Torah mentions Yehoshua first, we can safely assume that he was the initiator of this last effort. Before they spoke, Yehoshua and Calev tore their clothes as a sign of mourning. The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that this was a tactically significant move. Had Yeshoshu and Calev not been part of the mission, tearing their clothes would not have meant that much. But since they themselves had seen the land of Israel and then tore their clothes as a sign of mourning, it impacted Bnei Yisrael in some small way – it made them stop and consider the significance of their actions. If two of the spies disagreed so vehemently with the others, maybe the other spies’ report should be reevaluated.

After they got Bnei Yisrael’s attention, Yehoshua and Calev proceeded with their argument. “If Hashem wants us, then He will bring us into this land and give us this land that is flowing with milk and honey” (14:8). The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Yehoshua and Calev carefully worded their argument. They did not begin their argument with a definitive statement. Bnei Yisrael would never have let them continue. By beginning with the word “if,” they caught Bnei Yisrael’s attention and made them curious as to where they were going. That is why they were able to continue talking to them.

Shavuot

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Although Megilat Rut is one of the most beautiful stories regarding unadulterated chesed, it also serves as a primer on leadership. After all, its primary purpose is to establish the lineage of King David’s dynasty. Therefore we should expect to glean from it some important leadership lessons. Yet at first blush it would appear more apt to describe it as a book about followership. Rut’s noble commitment to join the Jewish people, despite all the hardships this entailed, is captured in her stirring words (1:16): “To where you will go I will go, where you will sleep I will sleep, your nation is my nation…” These words seem to constitute a declaration of what is termed “followership” more than leadership. However, a recent class trip, with my Yeshivah’s 8th grade, to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis helped clarify matters.

In the gift shop I saw a little book entitled Reef Points. The cashier explained to me that this book is the key book all midshipmen (at the naval academy students are called midshipmen, not cadets) are given upon entering the academy. It includes the principles, procedures and protocols that midshipmen must live by at all times. They literally have to memorize the book. While skimming through the book on the bus I came across the section on principles. One of the principles is “followership.” Strikingly, in a counter-intuitive way, the Navy feels it necessary to instruct its future leaders on the importance of being good followers. In the explanation to followership the book states: “There are several advantages to being a good follower even when you have been made a leader. First, you will never become a leader if you have not been a good follower. No one is going to recommend you for a leadership position if you have been poor at responding to the leadership of others. The most important reason goes back to the second principle. As a leader, you must always set the example” (p.39).

A deeper reason for the necessity of leaders to be good followers is that every leader is part of a greater whole. To be a trustworthy and credible leader one must demonstrate that he can subordinate himself to a greater good and be able to follow orders, instructions and directives. Even leaders at the top of the pyramid must be able to subordinate themselves to the greater goals of the people. Certainly, leaders in a Torah-based society must subordinate themselves to the Torah. Much of the chapter in the Torah describing the appointment of a king focuses on his adherence to the mitzvot. Rut, by exemplifying followership, taught her descendants this very important lesson.

Another attribute of leadership highlighted in both a positive and negative way in the megillah is optimism. A leader must believe that change and success are possible. This does not mean that a leader should be unrealistic and naively imagine the sun is shining on a cloudy day. Rather, a leader must see opportunities in setbacks and encourage his followers to move forward. Regrettably, the midrash describes (Rut Rabbah 1:4) how Elimelech had the means to support many people during the famine, but chose to abandon his leadership position for the plains of Moav, despite the damage this would cause to Bnei Yisrael’s economy and morale. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Batra 91b) points out that another name for Elimelech’s son Machlon was Yoash, which is related to the word despair. Elimelech’s son had to carry an ignominious name that highlighted for everyone the despair his family caused to the nation.

Contrast this behavior with Rut’s. Rut, who Chazal explain was from royal lineage, chose to abandon her comfortable lifestyle to begin anew as a pauper in a strange land. We can only imagine the boost to morale her accompanying Naomi and subsequent joining Bnei Yisrael precipitated. In addition to all her other attributes, Rut became the harbinger of hope and an exemplar of optimistic leadership at its best.

Leaders must also know how to exploit moments of inspiration and convert them into action plans. In his commentary on Megilat Rut, Rav Avigdor Nebenzal underscores the tragedy of Rut’s sister-in-law Orpah, who also had a very real inspirational moment. She too sincerely wanted to accompany Naomi. But unfortunately for Orpah this inspiration lasted for only a mere moment. Rut on the other hand was able to sustain her inspiration and turn it into a life-guiding vision. Rut, it turns out, was not only endowed with the ability of “followership” but with the ability of “follow-upship” as well.

Will Pig Eventually Be Kosher?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

In this week’s parshah the Torah teaches us which animals are kosher to eat and which are not. The Torah states the signs that determine whether an animal is kosher: an animal must have split hooves and chew its cud. Additionally, the Torah says that the pig, although it has split hooves, is not kosher since it does not chew its cud.

The medrash on this pasuk says that the reason that the pig is called “chazir” is because in the future Hashem will return (lehachzir) the pig to Bnei Yisrael and permit it to be eaten. According to many Achronim the medrash is to be taken literally; pig will be kosher in the future. The Rama Mipano (Asarah Mamaros Chikor Hadin 4:13) explains that Hashem will make the pig chew its cud, thereby making it kosher.

However, there are several questions on this halacha. The Gemara, in Bechoros 5b, says: “hayotzei min hatamei, tamei – anything that comes from a non-kosher animal is not kosher.” Therefore if a non-kosher animal gives birth to a kosher animal (which has the kosher signs), it is forbidden to be eaten. The following question is asked: How can a pig become kosher when it came from a non-kosher animal? Furthermore, any offspring should be forbidden since it came from a non-kosher animal – namely from the pig that was non-kosher.

Another point is that the Rambam (Hilchos Machalos Asuros 2:3) says that only the ten animals that the Torah explicitly permitted to be eaten can indeed be eaten. Any other animal (even if it has the kosher signs) is prohibited to be eaten because it is a lav haba michlal assei (when the Torah says you should do this it is inferred that it is prohibited to do otherwise – and the Torah says to eat these animals). It is for this reason that humans are prohibited to be eaten, since they are not one of the animals explicitly mentioned in the pasuk. Thus the question: According to this, how can a pig become permitted to be eaten since it is not one of the animals explicitly permitted in the pasuk?

The Radvaz (Teshuvos 2:828) explains that the medrash is not to be taken literally; rather it should be understood that in the future Bnei Yisrael will eat mashmanim, as if eating pig was permissible. Rabbeinu Bichaiya also explains that the intention of the medrash was not to say that pig will become permitted for consumption in the future, but rather that the medrash is referring to the kingdom of Edom (which is referred to as the chazir) – that Hashem will eventually return (lehachzir) on them midas hadin (judgment). The Ritva (Kiddushin 49b) explains that the medrash is referring to Amalek.

Obviously the aforementioned questions do not apply if the medrash is not to be taken literally. But according to the Achronim that explain that the medrash is to be taken literally (that pig will one day be permitted to be eaten), we must answer the abovementioned questions.

There is a similar question discussed by the Achronim that also pertain to this discussion. The Gemara in Menachos 21a says that according to most opinions, cooked blood is permitted min haTorah; it is prohibited, though, mi’derabbanan. The Achronim ask that since the abovementioned Gemara in Bechoros says that anything that comes from something non-kosher is itself prohibited, why is cooked blood not forbidden since it came from blood before it was cooked (which is forbidden min haTorah)? The Chazon Ish (Bechoros, siman 16:13) explains that the halacha that an animal that comes from a non-kosher animal is forbidden to be eaten only applies when an animal is born or when a second product is produced from a non-kosher one. However, when we are dealing with the same item, it is not considered yotzei coming from a non-kosher item; thus it is permitted. Regarding cooked blood, since it is the same item it is not considered coming from the forbidden, uncooked blood; thus it is permitted as well.

Regarding the pig that began chewing its cud, we can extend the answer of the Chazon Ish and explain that the pig was not yotzei from itself when it began to chew its cud – since it is the same item. It will therefore be permitted.

Another answer that I have heard is that the Rambam (Hilchos Machalos Asuros 3:6) says that one who transgresses by eating the product of a non-kosher animal does not receive lashes. Reb Chaim Soloveitchik explains that when something is yotzei from a non-kosher animal it is forbidden. But it does not take on the same prohibition as its producer, instead becoming a new prohibition of yotzei – over which one does not receive lashes.

The halacha that something that is yotzei from a non-kosher animal is forbidden only applies when the mother animal is non-kosher. However, if the animal that it came from was not actually non-kosher, its offspring will be permitted. So after pigs start chewing their cud, they will still be prohibited since they were yotzei from the non-kosher pigs. But they will not be prohibited as pigs; rather they will be prohibited as issur yotzei. Hence the following generation of pigs will not be prohibited, since the pigs that they came from were not actually non-kosher but were only issur yotzei – which does not prohibit their products.

The Continuing Story of Yetziyas Mitzrayim

Monday, April 16th, 2012

         “And Hashem told Moshe, lift up thy rod over the sea and divide it”… And Moshe ordered the sea to divide.

         But the sea refused. “Why should I obey you,” it said, “You are but a man born of a woman and besides, I am three days older than you, I was established on the third day of creation, and you were created on the sixth day.”

         Moshe relayed what happened to the Almighty and prayed for help.  “Now is not the time for prayer,” said Hashem, “Lift up thy rod…”

         Immediately Moshe picked up his rod. The sea, however, remained very obstinate. Moshe then pleaded with Hashem that He should command the sea to divide. But the Almighty refused saying, “Were I to order the sea to divide it would never return to its former status. However, I will clothe you with a semblance of My strength to command its obedience.”

         When the sea saw Hashem’s strength on the right of Moshe, it became terrified. “Make way for me so that I may hide from the Lord of Hosts,” pleaded the sea.

         The waters of the Red Sea then divided and a miracle occurred throughout the world – all the waters in wells, caves, rivers and even in glasses also divided and remained so until Bnei Yisrael passed through the sea.

The Ten Miracles

         A number of miracles occurred at the Red Sea. 1. The waters of the sea formed a canopy over Bnei Yisrael’s heads. 2. Twelve separate lanes opened up, one for each of the shevatim. 3. The water between the shevatim became transparent as glass so they could all see each other. 4. The ground beneath was dry and warm, but it soon changed to a mire of mud when the Egyptians stepped into it. 5. The walls of the sea changed to jagged stone when the Egyptians entered and they were bruised terribly. 6. A stream of sweet drinking water flowed alongside Bnei Yisrael to quench their thirst. 7. Different types of fruit – apples, oranges, plums, etc. – extended from the walls of the sea allowing Bnei Yisrael to feast as they walked through the sea. 8. The reflection of these miracles was portrayed upon the clouds, which mirrored them to all the nations of the world who were awed by the stupendous might of G-d.

         And the Egyptians were smitten with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. The pillar of cloud made the soil miry and the mire was heated to the boiling point so that the hoofs of the horses fell off and they could not budge from the spot. The torture of the Egyptians in the Red Sea was far worse than the pain they suffered through the plagues in Egypt, for they were delivered into the hands of the Angel of Destruction who battered them continuously. Had G-d not provided them with a double portion of strength they could not have withstood the pain. The Egyptians were tossed and shaken as peas in a pot. The rider and his horse were tossed high into the sky and then the two together were hurled to the bottom of the sea.

         And so all of the Egyptians were drowned. All except one, Pharaoh. When he heard Bnei Yisrael raise their voices in song, he pointed his finger heavenward and called out, “I believe in Thee, G-d. Thou art righteous and I am wicked and I now acknowledge that there is no G-d in the world beside Thee.” Immediately Gabriel descended and, placing an iron chain on his neck, raised him from the depths of the water. “Villain,” he said. “Yesterday you boasted, ‘Who is the Lord?’ and now you say, ‘The Lord is righteous.’” Whereupon he dropped him into the depths of the sea and kept him there for 50 days, showing him the ways of G-d. Later he installed him as king of the great city of Nineveh, for Pharaoh feared to return to Egypt.

         After many years, when Jonah came to Nineveh and prophesied the destruction of the city because of its inhabitants’ evil, it was Pharaoh who, seized by fear and terror, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. Having learned his lesson, Pharaoh issued the decree throughout Nineveh. “Let no one eat or drink, for I know that there is no G-d in all the world save Him. All His words are truth and all His judgments are true and faithful”
(Sotah 36, 37; Megillah 10; Pesachim 118; Midrash Shemos, Mechilta).

Pesach

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., the Titanic struck an iceberg. It sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. Thus, this month (both according to the Jewish and secular calendars) marks the centennial of the disaster. Despite the passage of time, the tragedy still fascinates people and continues to be a source of lessons learned – both good and bad. Recently, when the Costa Concordia sank off the Italian coast, comparisons were made between the captain of this ill-fated ship and Captain Edward Smith, the master of the Titanic. Most striking was the fact that not only did the captain of the Costa Concordia survive the ordeal, as opposed to Captain Smith, who went down with his ship, but that the Costa Concordia’s captain abandoned ship early in the ordeal, leaving his crew and passengers to sort things out for themselves. Captain Smith, in contrast, remained on board and in command throughout the doomed lifesaving efforts. History, for the most part, has been kind to Smith, portraying him as a gallant officer doing his utmost to save his passengers and crew.

While Smith was no coward, and he certainly understood his responsibility, the truth about his leadership is actually rather complicated. Some have blamed him for ordering the Titanic to maintain its high speed despite the ice warnings he had received. Others point to his arrogant faith in human engineering, which caused him to not properly consider the dangers lurking in the sea. However, in truth, he can be exonerated for these missteps, for he was merely following the conventional practice and wisdom of the time. Captains, for the most part, believed the expedient thing was to try and get through ice fields as quickly as possible. It was felt that lookouts could spot potential danger in time and helmsmen could maneuver the ship accordingly, with time to spare. That few people fully understood the physics involved with moving and slowing down a ship the Titanic’s size was a function of the time, not a failure on Smith’s part.

But the story does not end there. Once tragedy struck Smith seems to have been a mediocre leader at best. He first kept the true nature of the accident from crew and passengers alike, thus mitigating people’s sense of emergency and urgency. While Smith knew there were not enough lifeboats for all aboard, the sad reality is that there was capacity for 400 more people than ultimately survived. Many people who could have boarded lifeboats refused to do so because they felt it was safer to remain on the ship. He also seems to have given ambiguous orders, often staying on the bridge instead of actively supervising the evacuation. Psychologists who have studied the disaster suggest that Smith became somewhat dysfunctional after the collision.

However, there is a person whose actions that night make him a leadership model to study. Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia, the ship that rushed to Titanic’s location and rescued the survivors, did almost everything right that night. After having been awakened close to 12:30 a.m. on April 15 and informed of the Titanic’s plight, Rostron immediately went into action. He summoned all department heads to the bridge and began issuing clear orders. He ordered the engineers to divert all steam to the engines and away from all other uses – including the heating and electrical needs of cabins and public rooms. This enabled the ship to travel somewhat faster than its usual top speed. He also told the chief steward: “Have your men turn all three dining rooms into hospitals. Send bedroom stewards through empty third class cabins and gather up blankets to warm on the boilers. I want plenty of hot coffee, cocoa, and brandy at both port doors” (Titanic Tragedy: A New Look At The Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham, 2011, p.140). He then ordered ladders and other boarding devices, and special lights, to be at the doors to enable safe boarding. To ensure the safety of his ship he posted extra lookouts to spot icebergs.

Unfortunately, the Carpathia arrived after the Titanic sank and was only able to rescue those people who were in the lifeboats. However, if not for Captain Rostron’s decisive and inspired leadership that night many of those people in the lifeboats might themselves have succumbed to the elements. That night Rostron was present, focused and involved.

On the seventh day of Pesach we read in the Torah about the miracle of the Red Sea crossing. Thousands of years ago Moshe Rabbeinu already taught the world what leadership against the backdrop of a dangerous sea is all about. Bnei Yisrael had just recently left Egypt and suddenly their erstwhile masters were charging at them with state of the art military forces. They had barely tasted the fruits of freedom when they seemed poised to suffer a humiliating recapture or even worse– death. Bnei Yisrael could not fathom why G-d freed them if this were to be the ignoble outcome. It is within this context that they panicked and exclaimed to Moshe that it would have been better to remain in Egypt. If their fate was to be death, there were more than enough graves in Egypt.

Pesach 5772: Free Forever

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

An act never dies. Each word you utter, each mitzvah you do, continues to ring in the world for all eternity. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, teaches it was such an eternal act that was the undoing of Pharaoh and the making of Israel as a nation of holy people.

When Yosef HaTzaddik heard his father was coming down to Mitzrayim, the pasuk says, “vayeser es merkavto” – Yosef ran out and with his own hands pulled the horses out of the stable and harnessed them to his chariot to go meet his father. The Sages ask, What’s this? Is it proper for a regent, a vice regent of Egypt who has so many servants, to do that himself?

The Sages answer, “Gedola ahava – how great is the love he has for his father – shemekalkeles es hashura – it caused him to do improper things.” He did something improper. He couldn’t wait. My father is coming to Mitzrayim! He was so excited out of love for his father; that’s how it should be.

Our sages tell us that act never died. It continued on and on. What happened? Over 200 years later, Bnei Yisrael marched out of Mitzrayim. Then Pharaoh had a change of heart. He became very angry at himself. Look what we did, he said, sending Bnei Yisrael out – and he ran out of his palace and harnessed his chariot.

“Vayeser es merkavto.” He harnessed his chariot himself. His servants said, “Master, let us do it.” He replied, “Nothing doing. I have to get even with those Hebrews.” He was boiling with anger and he couldn’t wait, so he harnessed it himself.

Now listen what our Sages tell us. It’s a principle, not just a one-time story. “Tova hasara she’asash Yosef Hatzaddik – that act when Yosef harnessed his own horses, that act never died – u’tiakev al hasara she’asah Paroh, and it came and it counteracted Pharaoh’s act.” It defeated Pharaoh’s intention. The righteousness of Yosef when he was so impatient out of love for his father lived on and on and was able to overcome the act of Pharaoh.

Now this needs more explanation, but we see from this teaching that an act doesn’t die. And so when Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah they are no longer of this world, they are forever. When you say Shema Yisrael, or when you say or do anything to serve Hashem, you’re investing in eternity. You’re a person who’s forever. You are eternal, you are the am olam, the eternal people.

Not only are you a nation that will forever exist, you’ll also live forever in the World to Come. When you look back and start discovering what the cause was that brought this about, it’s nothing but the shibud of Mitzrayim, the oppression in Egypt, which caused them to accept the Torah.

When we sit at the Pesach Seder, we discuss two things. We are bnei chorin, free men. We’re serving Hashem b’simcha, our family is around us, and we have good things to eat on the table. At the same time we remind ourselves of Egypt with all the signs of poverty like matzah, hah lachma anya (the bread of affliction), and we talk about the shibud Mitzrayim.

We have to realize that one is the cause of the other. We are bnei chorin, we are going to serve Hashem in this world, and our acts are forever. When you make kiddush, it’s forever. That kiddush will never stop. That cup will go on forever and forever. The matzah will go on forever and ever. The four questions will resound from your little boy who asks the four kashas, even when he’ll become an old grandfather. But he’ll be forever asking the four kashas in gan eden of his father and his father of his father and his father of his father. All the generations asking the four kashas in gan eden are enjoying it no end. Every act is forever.

That eternity, that nitzchius, was the result of one thing – the shibud Mitzrayim.

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/pesach-5772-free-forever/2012/04/05/

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