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Posts Tagged ‘Bnei Yisrael’

Parshat Vaeira

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

General George Armstrong Custer. The mere mention of his name evokes strong opinions of condemnation or admiration, depending on one’s perspective. Was he a brave, daring and innovative tactician or was he an impulsive, arrogant and reckless one? He was a complicated man by all accounts, so evidence can be marshaled for either side. Recent historians have argued that grading his military experience as a whole is inaccurate and fruitless. Rather, he must be judged in the context of the Civil War as a successful general, while in the context of the Indian wars as an ultimately failed cavalry commander. His decisions and actions at Gettysburg in June 1863 must be judged separately from his decisions and actions at the Little Big Horn in June 1876.

Essentially, the current argument posits that the Civil War and the Indian wars were two fundamentally different types of warfare. Therefore the qualities that made him a successful commander in one did not automatically carry over to the other. The Civil War was a conventional war with large massed armies arrayed against each other in set battles. These battles were more or less governed by accepted rules of war. The tactics followed by both sides were Napoleonic in nature and everyone knew what to expect. It was this type of war that West Point graduates, such as Custer, studied and ultimately excelled at.

The Indian war was quite different. “This was an insurgency, a guerilla war in which the enemy typically attacked civilians rather than military units, and quickly disappeared, melting into the countryside….And in this type of warfare, U.S. troops could not effectively operate in large, massed armies, as they had done in the Civil War; rather, they operated in small, isolated, and fortified units, and all territory beyond a fort’s walls had to be considered hostile” (Custer: Lessons in Leadership by Duane Schultz, 2010, p. 181).

Custer, like other Civil War veterans certainly had his difficulties adjusting to the Indian wars. However, plaguing Custer was a much deeper leadership problem. Unlike during the Civil War where his men idolized him and were committed to following him into the worst of battles, the 7th Cavalry troopers (and many of its officers) despised him in 1876. Although the 7th Cavalry marched under one pennant, it was far from a well-oiled, fine-tuned, cohesive unit.

In a recent issue of the Civil War magazine, The Civil War Monitor (Winter 2011) historian Glenn LaFantasie analyzed why Custer experienced such different relationships with his various commands. During the Civil War Custer commanded volunteer regiments from Michigan. These soldiers knew each other, often coming from the same towns. They were motivated by a sense of patriotism and, although they forever maintained the free spirit of volunteer soldiers, as the war wore on they developed a true professionalism. Custer realized that these men had to be inspired and inspire them he did. With his courage and daring Custer was the perfect role model for them.

The cavalry of the Indian war was a different reality. Many of the soldiers were immigrants – some of whom barely spoke English. They joined the army not out of a sense of duty or patriotism but as a means of escaping their wretched economic existence. Other soldiers were criminals and social outcasts who fled proper society. Even those soldiers who were veterans of the Civil War remained in the army or rejoined because they could not readjust to civilian life. “There was no cohesion as had existed in Civil War regiments drawn from a single state…The men of Custer’s 7th Cavalry, including the officers, had nothing in common, nothing that bound them together…” (p.32). Custer was never able to find a way to inspire them…so he stopped trying. It was under these conditions that he led his men to defeat at the Little Big Horn.

Among Custer’s character flaws was his inability to look inward. When a problem arose he blamed others. In the case of the 7th Cavalry he never considered that he needed to find a new way to inspire his troops. He just assumed that what had worked during the Civil War would work in the Indian war as well. Fortunately for Bnei Yisrael when Moshe Rabbeinu was faced with a similar situation of not successfully inspiring his people, he became introspective and accepted responsibility.

The Torah relates at the beginning of the parsha that Hashem described to Moshe His plan for Bnei Yisrael. He would first take them out of Egypt and ultimately bring them to Eretz Yisrael where they would serve Hashem as the successors to the legacy of the Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Moshe immediately delivered the prophecy to his brethren but was met with a disappointing response. The pasuk states (6:9): “And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisrael but they did not respond to (literally hear) Moshe due to their shortness of spirit and the hard labor.”

Dinah’s Daughter: A Vital Link

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

This week’s parsha, Vayislach, relates a shocking episode that causes genuine outrage in the Israelite camp — the Canaanite Prince Shechem’s brutal assault of Yaakov’s daughter Dinah. “And Yaakov’s sons came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and agonized in fury because he had committed a despicable deed against Israel by laying Yaakov’s daughter – a thing not to be done” (Bereshit 34:7).  The Torah then depicts the aggressive revenge of Yaakov’s sons against the Canaanite tribe, and the narrative flows on to additional future events, but of Dinah’s fate there is no further mention.

Two parshiyot later (Miketz) we learn of Yosef’s amazing rise to power in Egypt. Paraoh, in elevating Yosef to an exalted position, makes two ceremonial gestures. One: he grants Yosef a new name: “And Pharaoh called Yosef Tzafenat Paneah” (Bereshit 41:45) — and the second: he arranges a prestigious marriage for Yosef:  “…he gave him for a wife Asenat the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On…”(Ibid.)

These two official gestures by Paraoh seem linked: a prominent Egyptian name and a prominent Egyptian wife were designed to launch Yosef’s illustrious governmental career in Egypt. Egyptologists tell us that in the language of ancient Egypt Tzafenat translates as “supplier of food,” and Paneah as “vital.” From the connotation of the name given to Yosef it is apparent that it was a title denoting his job as Chief Steward, a preeminent and powerful governmental position further enhanced by his marriage to a woman hand-picked by Paraoh. By taking an Egyptian name and marrying a highborn Egyptian woman, Yosef acquired great prestige and, most importantly, an Egyptian identity.

When he married the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On, Yosef became a member of a socially and politically prominent family. On, the equivalent of the Greek Heliopolis, neighboring the Eastern Delta or Goshen, later the site of the Hebrews’ settlement, was the center of sun worship. During the reign of Akhenaton when sun worship was the official religion in Egypt, the chief sanctuary to Ra, the Sun God, was erected in On, rendering the Priest of On the Supreme Clerical Authority.

Asenat, the daughter of the Supreme Clerical Authority, eventually became the mother of Menashe and Efraim. On his deathbed Yaakov raised Menashe and Efrayim to become Israel’s tribal fathers, on par with Yaakov’s own sons. Asenat, who, according to the Midrash, was the adopted daughter of Potiphera (whom Rashi identifies with Potiphar) thus became one of the eemahos of Bnei Yisrael, sharing that honor equally with Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.

Who was Asenat if not the natural daughter of Potiphera? Where did she come from? Rabbinic literature picks up the thread that the Torah text did not continue to weave. Midrash Esther reveals that Asenath was in fact Dinah’s daughter, born of Dinah’s disastrous encounter with the Canaanite prince Shechem. How did the tale evolve? How did Dinah’s daughter become the adopted child of the Egyptian potentate? What miraculous coincidence helped the beautiful young girl to reach Potiphera’s home?

“And Dinah gave birth to a daughter and named her Asenat, saying, `To my woe did I bear her for Shechem the son of Chamor who had taken me by force to his house’” (Midrash Esther). The same Midrash discloses that when “Yaakov saw that his sons regard Asenat with hostility, he took a gold medal and wrote upon it the Holy Name and placed on her neck.”  With that Asenat left Yaakov’s household and the Almighty guided her to the house of Seleikha, wife of Potiphar.

“And Seleikha was barren of child, and she saw the lovely girl who came to her house, and she gathered her to her house, and she became her daughter” (Ibid.)

Years later, when Asenat was presented to him by Pharaoh, Yosef instantaneously noticed the medallion with the Holy Name on Asenat’s neck, and understood that it was the Divine Hand, which guided Asenat to him.

This Midrash solves several problems with one stroke. First, the brutality of Dinah’s fate is mitigated by this sequel. We are updated on Dinah’s story: the child born of the unhappy Shechem episode is redeemed from the stigma of her birth by eventually serving an essential role in the Divine plan. Secondly, through Asenat, Dinah’s rightful inheritance is restored, as she becomes a tribal ancestress on equal footing with her brothers. Thirdly, it allays fears about Yosef’s potential assimilation, marriage to a foreign woman being its ultimate element.

Not only did Yosef not marry an Egyptian, Chazal teach, on the contrary, he married a young woman provided by the Almighty Himself, a wife from the house of Yaakov to serve as a vital link to the next generation.

Sarah: Prophetic Princess To Mankind

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Our first matriarch’s original name, Sarai, meant “Princess to Her People.”  When her name was changed to Sarah, its meaning took on a universal connotation: “Princess to Mankind.” (Bereshit Rabba 47:1). It was then that our matriarch Sarah assumed the mission of spreading faith in one G-d: while Avraham converted the men, Sarah reached out to redeem the women, to bring geulah by drawing them into the orbit of her faith.

In this week’s Torah portion Sarah is introduced simultaneously with Yiskah, the daughter of Avraham’s brother Haran. Remarkably, Chazal claim that Yiskah and Sarah were the very same person, explaining that the name Yiskah, stemming from the root sakho (gaze), implies that “whoever beheld Sarah gazed at her beauty” (Megillah 14a).

When her extraordinary beauty drew the attention of Paraoh’s courtiers, and she was taken by force to his palace, Sarah prayed for deliverance from Paraoh’s clutches.  The Almighty listened to Sarah’s voice and sent an angel to whip the Egyptian king at her command (Bereshit Rabba 41:2).  Overwhelmed by this sign of divine favor, Paraoh not only released her from his clutches, but as a token of his admiration, gave his daughter Hagar as a handmaid to Sarah, and the land of Goshen as a hereditary possession to Bnei Yisrael (Bereshit Rabba 45).

It was for that reason Bnei Yisrael were able to reside in Goshen during the very long galus in Mitzrayim.

Another rationale for Sarah’s identity with Yiskah is based on a second meaning of the same verb root as above; here “sakho” translates as “see.” Chazal tell us that Sarah possessed the gift of nevuah, prophetic “vision,” which enabled her to “see” by means of the Holy Spirit (Megillah 14a). It was this prophetic gift that enabled Sarah to perceive the true nature of Yishmael through the latter’s behavior: “Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the one that the Egyptian woman bore to Avraham, laugh” (Bereshit 21:9) Rashi informs us that “laugh” in this context has two meanings, either “idolatrous conduct,” or  “promiscuity.” Chances are that Yishmael’s conduct belonged to both categories  –immorality relating to idolatrous practices. It is for this reason that the reference to Yishmael here is not by his name but by his heredity – “the son of Hagar the Egyptian woman.”

Rabi Shimon bar Yochai cites the words of Rabi Akiva: “The sole meaning of ‘laughter’ here is ‘idol worship.’  G-d forbid, that such a practice should take place in the household of that Righteous Man [Avraham], and it should be his heritage” (Tosefta Sota, 86).

It was for this reason that Sarah demanded Yishmael’s expulsion from the household of Avraham. And it was for this reason that Avraham was admonished by G-d to follow Sarah’s instructions, saying: “…everything that Sarah says to you obey her voice,” (Bereshit 21:12).

It was through Sarah’s prophetic vision, her voice, at this critical juncture of our history, that we were led to the ultimate geulah for Bnei Yisrael: Yitzchak and not Yishmael became the rightful heir of Avraham’s legacy. It is Yitzchak and not Yishmael who was to inherit Eretz Yisrael and become the carrier of the prophetic teaching of divine ethics and exercise their moral leadership for all generations.

Was The Teivah Made Of Stolen Materials?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

In this week’s parshah Hashem tells Noach to build a teivah, for as the pasuk says, “assei lecha teivas… – you shall make for yourself a teivah” (Bereishis 6:14). Hashem also instructs Noach to bring with him foods and provisions, for as the pasuk says, “v’ata kach lecha mikal ma’achal – and you shall take for yourself of every food” (6:21). Generally when the Torah writes “lecha,” it is to exclude stolen materials. As we find regarding the mitzvah of taking the four minim on the first day of Sukkos that they must not be stolen in order for you to fulfill this obligation, the pasuk says “lachem.” So why was it necessary to tell Noach not to steal the materials and provisions for the teivah? Why would he have thought otherwise?

The Kli Yakar understands the pasuk to mean the exclusion of stolen materials, and is bothered by the abovementioned question. He answers that the Torah felt the need to reiterate to Noach that he should not steal because there was room for one to err and think that since all of the people were going to die and all of their possessions were destined to be destroyed, perhaps one can already take his possessions for himself. Therefore the Torah wrote the word “lecha” to exclude stolen materials.

The Kli Yakar’s answer is difficult to understand, for why would one think that if another person is going to die and his possessions are destined to be destroyed, he could take those possessions for himself? As long as the individual is still alive and his possessions are still intact, they belong to him – and one may not steal them.

Reb Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, offers an explanation to better understand the Kli Yakar’s answer. He proves from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 56b that a ben Noach’s prohibition not to steal differs from that of the Bnei Yisrael. The prohibition not to steal that applies to Bnei Yisrael prohibits any act of taking property that does not belong to you. The actual act of taking the property is forbidden. However, the prohibition on the bnei Noach does not prohibit the actual action of taking someone else’s property; rather it prohibits the usage of someone else’s property. Since the act of taking is not prohibited for him, Noach may have reasoned that he could take the food and provisions now, and not use them until the mabul began and everyone was dead – at which point it would be permitted to use them. To counter such thoughts, the Torah wrote “lecha” to teach Noach that even the act of taking is prohibited if there is no permitted usage at the time of the taking. That is why that pasuk reiterates “kach lecha mikal ma’achal asher yei’acheil” – take for yourself of every food that you can eat. Since the usage defines whether it may be taken, the pasuk stresses that you may eat it. It is unclear if we are to derive from here the general halachos of stealing as it pertains to a ben Noach. Or was this only the case for Noach at that time?

The Meshech Chochmah explains the words “asher yei’acheil differently. He quotes a Gemara in Chullin 129a that expounds on a different pasuk with the same wording as meaning that the food should not be assur b’hana’ah (forbidden to derive benefit from), and thus may be fed to others. Hashem was telling Noach that he should bring food that was not assur b’hana’ah, since he would have to feed all of the animals.

I would like to suggest an alternate p’shat. Perhaps there was no reason for Noach to think that he would be able to steal other people’s property even at that particular point; yet the Torah said that the building materials and the provisions that were to be eaten in the teivah must not be stolen for a different reason. Since the reason that the mabul was brought was due to robbery – as the pasuk says, “ki mal’ah ha’aretz chamas (6:13) – the means whereby Noach was to be saved could not be stained with the very sin that brought about the destruction. Therefore, Hashem made a din that the teivah and the provisions not be stolen even though there was no reason for Noach to think that it was permitted.

Will The Final Redemption Parallel The Exodus?

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The prophet Micah said (7:15), “As in the days of your leaving Egypt, I shall show them marvelous things.” His words imply that the Exodus is the precedent for the Final Redemption, as the Midrash expounds:

“Just as in Egypt, I shall redeem you in the future from subjugation to Edom and shall perform miracles for you, as it says, “As in the days of your leaving Egypt, I shall display miracles’” (Tanchuma, Toldot 17).

Indeed, gradual, phased redemption is found already in Egypt, as in the four redemption expressions with which God addresses Moses:

“Therefore tell the Israelites that I am the Lord. I will remove you (1) from the suffering of Egypt, and I will save you (2) from your enslavement. I will redeem you (3) with an outstretched arm and with great punishments, and I will take you (4) to Me as a people. I will be for you a God” (Exodus 6:6-7).

This refers to four stages of redemption. The first stage constituted a lightening of their hardship, although they continued to be Pharaoh’s slaves. According to the Netziv, Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, this occurred during the plague of the wild animals (arov). The second stage constituted the total cessation of their enslavement (with the plague of hail, during which Pharaoh began to admire Israel – Netziv).

Even so, Israel was not yet free but under the control of the Egyptian regime. With the plague of the firtborn came the third stage, in which the Jews were redeemed totally, with an outstretched arm and with great punishments, and they left slavery for freedom. Yet they were still mired in the forty-nine levels of impurity – like idol worshippers. Finally came the fourth stage, in which they were taken to be Hashem’s people, and Hashem became their God.

Even though Bnei Yisrael, when redemption arrived, were not worthy of it, God still redeemed them, as is stated in the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 15):

“God said, ‘If I consider Israel’s deeds, they will never be redeemed. Whom shall I then consider? Their holy ancestors. Through their ancestors’ merit I will redeem them.’”

It is not just Bnei Yisrael‘s condition in the past that delays redemption, but their anticipated condition in the future as well. Therefore, before introducing the four redemption expressions, God says, “Therefore, tell the Israelites that I am the Lord,” regarding which our sages commented:

“I know that they will ultimately rebel against Me and anger Me. Even so, I shall redeem them for the sake of My name” (Midrash Hagadol).

Complete redemption comes when Israel recognizes Hashem as its God, as occurred during stage four – the Sinai Revelation. Yet the Torah goes on and brings a fifth redemption expression: “I will bring you to the land regarding which I swore that I would give it to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:8).

From the redemption from Egypt we learn that complete redemption consists of Israel being free (“I will redeem you “), living in Eretz Yisrael (“I will bring you to the land”), and believing in God and fulfilling His commandments (“I will be for you a God”).

The Final Redemption will reach completion by a gradual process, like the Exodus from Egypt. The message is don’t despair; hang in there.

Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Israel’s True Road Map: From Physical To Spiritual Redemption

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

As Jews in Israel and all over the world prepare to celebrate Shavuot, it is incumbent upon us to take the time to reflect on the meaning of our traditional values and history with regard to our current challenges and goals.

Today, as the Jewish people face external and internal threats, we may learn to cope with the dangers we face through the lessons learned from our history in biblical times.

Our celebration of the Passover holiday commemorates our physical redemption from slavery in Egypt and the miracles that accompanied our salvation.

The follow-up to this miraculous event is the spiritual redemption of the Jewish people with the acceptance of the holy Torah on Mount Sinai, which we commemorate on Shavuot.

There is a parallel to this: The miraculous establishment of the State of Israel following the tragedy of the Holocaust as the physical salvation of the Jewish people from the slaughter that took place all over Europe.

Unfortunately, we are still challenged with achieving our spiritual salvation in the Land of Israel and all over the world as Jews cope with anti-Semitism, delegitimization of the Jewish state, and above all the battle to maintain Jewish identity and values while living under the influence of modernization.

Possibly the most glorious moment in our nation’s history took place right before the acceptance of the Torah. The Jewish people declared to Moshe (Shemot 24:8): “Na’aseh v’nishma“- “We will do and we will listen.”

The Midrash Tanchuma states that R’ Abba bar R’ Kahana said, “When Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai and said, ‘All that Hashem speaks we will do and we will hear,’ the Almighty sent two angels to each of Am Yisrael. One angel girded him with a sword and the other one placed a crown on his head” (Tetzaveh 11).

The crowns testified to their lofty status.

The Beis HaLevi explains: “Why did each individual respond in the plural, ‘Na’aseh v’nishma,’ we will do and we will listen? Each person should have said, ‘I will do and I will listen.’ How could they speak for everyone else?

The Beis Halevi answers that everyone made two acceptances. One was to personally observe the Torah, while the second commitment was to take responsibility for his friend, to ensure that he would also keep the Torah faithfully.

This is stated in the Midrash: “Rebbi said that when the Jewish people stood before Har Sinai together and accepted the sovereignty of Hashem with joy and with one heart, they also became guarantors for each other” (Tanchuma Yitro 13).

Among the mitzvot observed by the people of Israel are those pertaining to the settlement of the Land. The entire world is currently up in arms proclaiming that the Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel are an obstacle to peace.

What is being ignored is that Jerusalem, the Golan and Judea and Samaria were included in the British Mandate delegated by the League of Nations for which the UN is responsible through Article 80, as well as the Anglo-American Treaty of 1924, which the United States government is responsible to implement according to the Constitution.

The fact that the Jewish people living in Israel, especially in Jerusalem and the biblical regions of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, are indigenous to these lands (and as such protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) has been largely ignored by the international community and left-wing opponents of the Jewish right to Eretz Yisrael.

With the resumption of the peace process under the guidance of the Obama administration, Jews in the U.S. and all over the world must take responsibility for their fellow Jews and raise their voices to ensure the Jewish right to fulfill the mitzvah of living in the land of our ancestors, the “promised land” as given to us by the Almighty.

By remaining silent in face of the international effort to deny us this mitzvah, the Jewish people will be going back on the biblical promise made when they accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai – “Na’aseh v’nishma.”

The peace process needs to go forward and to succeed – but not at the expense of our Jewish identity and our rights to the Land of Israel.

Parshat Va’eira

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

“Iceberg, right ahead.” With those words, the Titanic’s lookout Frederick Fleet warned the crew on the ship’s bridge of the imminent threat. In classic British fashion, Sixth Officer Moody thanked Fleet and turned to First Officer Murdoch, who was in charge of the watch, and repeated the warning. Despite Murdoch’s best efforts to take evasive action, in less than a minute from the initial warning, the great ship struck the iceberg. The ship was moving too fast and was too large to change its course quickly enough. The time of the collision was 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1912. By 2:20 a.m. April 15, the greatest ship ever built had sunk beneath the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Fifteen- hundred people went down with the ship. Just over 700 survived.

The tragedy of the Titanic is that it didn’t have to happen. Captain Smith, the ship’s master, had received multiple warnings of ice throughout the day.

9:00 a.m.: The ship Caronia reported ice.

1:42 p.m.: The ship Baltic reported ice.

1:45 p.m.: The ship Amerika reported ice.

7:30 p.m.: The ship Californian reported ice.

Nonetheless, the captain maintained full speed, which made it harder to stop the ship in an emergency. In the captain’s defense, it must be pointed out that standard practice in 1912 was to try to traverse an ice field as quickly as possible. Additionally, since this was the Titanic’s maiden voyage, the captain and crew were not fully familiar with the ship. Having commanded smaller ships in the past, the captain may have assumed that the Titanic was as maneuverable as they were. Lastly, with expert lookouts on board, the captain felt that any iceberg posing a threat could be seen early enough to avoid it.

However, there seems to have been an overriding reason for the captain’s relatively passive response to the ice warnings. His judgment was impaired due to pressure from Bruce Ismay, the Titanic’s parent company chairman, to reach New York ahead of schedule. In truth, we will never know for sure, since Captain Smith went down with the ship and Ismay, who survived, denied actually pressuring the captain. However, historians feel that it is safe to say that Captain Smith focused on the long-range goal of reaching New York quickly at the expense of the more immediate goal of navigating his ship safely through the ice threat.

Leaders of organizations constantly find themselves needing to balance their strategic vision with their immediate tactical needs. For example, as a society, how do we balance the need to invest resources in long-term medical research with the need to allot resources to current medical issues? Do we invest money in cancer research or buy more ambulances to reduce the response time to medial emergencies? From this week’s parshah we can glean some guidance.

The Torah relates (6:9) that Bnei Yisrael didn’t listen to Moshe due to their “shortness of spirit and hard labor.” Moshe felt that they didn’t listen to him because he was a failed leader. If the Jews didn’t listen to him how would Pharaoh listen to him? G-d, however, ordered Moshe, nonetheless, to approach Pharaoh. According to the Meshech Chachmah, G-d explained to Moshe that his lack of success was not due to his inability to lead effectively, but rather to a tactical error.

In passuk 8, Moshe informed Bnei Yisrael that they would enter and inherit the land of Israel. It was in response to this “vision” that Bnei Yisrael responded with indifference. According to the Meshech Chachmah, G-d explained to Moshe that people who are slaves are not interested in long-term visions. They are interested in one thing – improving their present condition. Why think about tomorrow if we can’t escape the problems of today. Therefore, G-d instructed Moshe to currently talk to Bnei Yisrael only about ending the slavery.

This approach is reflected in passuk 13 when G-d commanded Moshe to tell Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Only after Moshe succeeded in ending (or at the very least lessening) the bondage, would he be able to excite Bnei Yisrael with the vision of their future in the land of Israel.

In a similar vein the Malbim explains the passuk in Tehillim (119:105), “Your words are a candle for my feet and an illumination for my paths.” The illumination represents the ideal vision – the path of Torah. But the path is full of little obstacles that, if not overcome, will prevent a person from following the path. The candle, which helps a person to see right in front of him, enables one to avoid the immediate obstacles. In this case, the candle represents the Torah and mitzvot. Like the Meshech Chachmah, the Malbim emphasizes the need to balance long and short term needs.

The lesson for leaders is obvious. While a leader must have a vision, he must build credibility with his followers by addressing their immediate needs. As those needs are addressed, he can then encourage them to buy into his vision and commit their support to its realization. However, at no time can the march towards the vision neglect immediate needs that if not met will prevent the vision from being realized.

The added tragedy of the Titanic is that, had the ship been going even a little more slowly, or had the lookouts spotted the iceberg merely 30 seconds earlier, the collision would have been avoided. Unfortunately, an historical “what if” matters little in the face of an historical “what was.” Captain Smith failed as a leader that fateful night. He kept his eye on the destination while neglecting to look at what was right in front of him.

Rabbi David Hertzberg is the Principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be e-mailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-vaeira/2007/01/17/

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