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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Kli Yakar’

Parshat Vayeishev

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Most people remember where they were when they heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and justice delivered. Many books have already been written about the ten-year search for him, the decision to launch the mission and the actual attack on his compound in Abbottabad. While every aspect of this story is fascinating, I would like to focus on one specific area: Why were the Navy SEALs chosen to execute the mission? When the mission was being planned it was hardly a done deal that the SEALs would be selected as opposed to the CIA’s own paramilitary unit.[1]

At a meeting at the CIA in early 2011 Admiral William McRaven, the commander of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), suggested that one of the military’s special operations forces be used. His suggestion was SEAL Team Six[2], based on their availability. His reasoning for using one of his teams as opposed to a CIA team was as follows: The compound was located 150 miles inside Pakistan. The least of the problems would be the actual storming of the compound. The key challenge was that the attacking force would have to fulfill its mission and extract itself without starting a shooting war with the Pakistani army. This made the mission overly complex and, the more complex a mission, the more things there are that could go wrong. The SEALs, McRaven argued, had perfected these tactics through trial and error, and at the cost of many lives. They knew what they were doing. They had the experience.

McRaven told CIA officials that history has taught that on missions like this, something always goes wrong – no matter how much planning there is. What they needed were men who could think under pressure and adapt to whatever situation materialized. McRaven was persuasive and SEAL team Six got the job.

The commander handpicked the SEALs who would go on the mission. “It was a Dream Team: men who, in the thousands of raids he had overseen, had shown they did not rattle, had shown they could handle themselves coolly and intelligently not just when things went according to plan, but when things went wrong. Those situations required quickly assessing the significance of the error or malfunction or whatever unexpected event had occurred, and then making the necessary adjustments to complete the mission. The core talent required was the ability to adapt, to think for yourself and make smart decisions” (The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Mark Bowden, 2012, p. 192-93).

The ability to adapt is necessary for all successful leaders. Either things don’t go as planned or unexpected opportunities present themselves. While the leader’s vision and overall goal should remain constant, his plans and tactics must be flexible. This requires conditioning and preparation. In this week’s parsha we meet the ultimate adaptable leader—Yosef. Every step of Yosef’s kidnapping and sale to the Midyanim and then to the Yishmaelim was guided by Hashem, and inspired Yosef to adapt in every situation in a manner that would place him on the trajectory to become viceroy in Egypt. The Ketav Sofer points out that Yosef, despite being a charismatic and success-generating individual, managed to act plain and unassuming while in the company of the Yishmaelim. Had he been his normal self, they never would have sold him in Egypt; they would have opted to keep him for themselves. Had that happened Yosef would have remained a permanent prisoner of a nomadic tribe with no hope of becoming a player in world affairs. Yosef thus adapted to the situation by subduing his natural personality.

Upon being sold to Potifar the Kli Yakar (39:3,5) explains that Yosef demonstrated his organizational and managerial skills and earned three promotions within the household operation. Seeing his success Potifar assigned Yosef to his personal staff with the independence necessary to do his job. He then placed him in charge of the entire household staff. Finally, he appointed him as manager of all his operations, including all of his outside concerns.

After Yosef was falsely accused of misconduct, he was sentenced to the royal prison. Yet even there, amid the terrible conditions of a prison, Yosef adapted and managed to impress his superiors, inspire confidence and attain the position of prison manager. The Or Chaim Hakadosh (39:22) suggests, based on the wording of the pasuk, that Yosef, despite being the senior prisoner, did not take advantage of his position and co-opt for himself special privileges. Instead, he worked with the other prisoners sharing in their discomfort. By setting such a high personal example Yosef endeared himself in the eyes of all others.

Rebuke: The Malpractice Of A Mitzvah

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

When the Torah mentions the obligation to rebuke a fellow Jew, it ends with the words, “and do not bear a sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17).

The Targum translates this as, “and do not receive a punishment for his sin.”

According to the Targum, it appears that if Reuven ate a ham sandwich and I didn’t rebuke him, I would be punished for his sin. This seems difficult to understand. Why should I be punished for his sin? At most, you might argue that if I was capable of rebuking him and didn’t, I would be responsible for the sin of not rebuking him. But how do I become responsible for the sin he perpetrated? He transgressed it; I didn’t.

The answer to this question is based on understanding the connection one Jew has to another.

The Kli Yakar brings a mashal. Imagine a man who is on an ocean voyage. One morning, he hears a strange rattling sound coming from the cabin next to his. As the noise continues, he becomes more and more curious, until finally, he knocks on his neighbor’s door. When the door opens, he sees that his neighbor is drilling a hole in the side of the boat.

“What are you doing?” the man cries.

“Oh, I’m just drilling,” the neighbor answers simply.

Drilling?”

“Yes. I’m drilling a hole in my side of the boat.”

“Stop that!” the man says.

“But why?” asks the neighbor. “This is my cabin. I paid for it, and I can do what I want here.”

“No, you can’t! If you cut a hole in your side, the entire boat will go down.”

The nimshal is that the Jewish people is one entity. For a Jew to say, “What I do is my business and doesn’t affect anyone else,” is categorically false. My actions affect you, and your actions affect me – we are one unit. It is as if I have co-signed on your loan. If you default on your payments, the bank will come after me. I didn’t borrow the money but I am responsible. So too when we accepted the Torah together on Har Sinai, we became one unit, functioning as one people. If you default on your obligations, they come to me and demand payment. We are teammates, and I am responsible for your performance.

The Targum is teaching us the extent of that connection. What Reuven does directly affects me — not because I am nosy or a busybody, but because we are one entity, so much so that I am liable for what he does. If he sins and I could have prevented it, that comes back to me. A member of my team transgressed, and I could have stopped it from happening. If I did all that I could have to help him grow and shield him from falling, I have met my obligation and will not be punished. If, however, I could have been more concerned for his betterment and more involved in helping to protect him from harm and didn’t, I am held accountable for his sin.

This perspective is central to understanding why rebuke doesn’t work.

When Reuven goes over to Shimon and “gives it to him good,” really shows just what did wrong, the only thing accomplished is that now Shimon hates Reuvain.

To properly fulfill the mitzvah of tochacha, there are two absolute requirements. The first relates to attitude, the second to method.

What’s My Intention?

When I go over to my friend to chastise him, the first question I must ask myself is, “What is my intention?”

If my intention is to set him straight and stop him from doing a terrible sin, I will almost certainly fail. The only intention that fits the role of a successful mochiah is: “This is my friend; I am concerned for his good.”

If I am looking out for kavod Shamayaim, or if I am a do-gooder concerned for the betterment of the world, my words will accomplish the exact opposite of their intended purpose. I won’t succeed in separating my friend from the sin; I will only succeed in separating him from me. The first requirement for the proper fulfillment of tochacha is that it must be out of love and concern for my friend.

The second condition for tochacha to be effective has to with the way it is delivered. The Chofetz Chaim was once approached by a certain community leader who complained that no matter how much he reproached the people of his town, they didn’t listen. The Chofetz Chaim asked this person to describe how he went about rebuking his townspeople. The man described his method of yelling fiery words at them. The Chofetz Chaim asked him, “Tell me, when you put on tefillin, do you shout and carry on? Why do you feel the obligation to do so when you do this mitzvah?”

Parshas Vayakhel – Princes Indeed

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

        “V’Hanesi’im haviu es Avnei HaShoham v’es Avnei HaMiluim (Shemos 35:27) – And the princes [of the Jews] brought the shoham stones and the miluim stones.” The Torah relates how the nesi’im, the leaders of each tribe, donated the precious stones that were worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in his priestly garments, the Ephod and the Choshen.
 
         Rashi, quoting the Midrash, notes the contrast between the gifts of these stones and the karbanos (sacrifices) that the nesi’im brought at the inauguration of the Mizbeach (Altar). The Torah relates how the nesi’im were the first to contribute sacrifices on the Mizbeach (Bamidbar 7:1), while in this week’s parshah, their donations of the valuable stones were made only after all the materials for the Mishkan were contributed.
 
         Rashi says that when Moshe invited Bnei Yisrael to begin donating items for the building of the Mishkan, the nesi’im assumed an extremely supportive role. They informed Moshe that they would like to allow all individuals to donate to the Mishkan, and they would then procure all the missing materials needed for its completion. As it turned out, however, the people were extremely enthused, and brought everything necessary for construction of the Mishkan in a few short days. Since the nesi’im delayed in actually giving their contribution, all that was left for them to provide was the precious stones.
 

Growing From Errors

 

         Rashi comments that the word nesi’im in this one place (Shemos 35:27) is spelled without the letter ‘yud‘ that it usually has, due to the lethargic manner in which the nesi’im brought their benefaction. (In many instances in the Torah, a missing letter in the narrative of a person’s actions indicates a flaw of sorts in the person or persons being described.) To their credit, Rashi points out, the nesi’im learned the lesson of this incident, and were the first to donate karbanos at the inauguration of the Mizbeach.
 
         At first glance, however, it would seem that the nesi’im acted properly. They offered their complete, unwavering support to Moshe and then stepped back and allowed the others to participate. Imagine the following scenario: A synagogue president ascends the pulpit one Shabbos morning and announces that the shul will be undertaking a campaign to construct a new synagogue for the community. A wealthy man pulls him aside later that day and privately instructs him to begin building immediately. He assures the president that he will personally provide any missing funds needed to complete the project. The president would be stunned – and overjoyed!
 
         The nesi’im seemed to reply to Moshe’s request for donations in a similar fashion. What was “missing” in their response? Why was the letter ‘yud‘ missing from their title? Finally, how was their endowment of the stones an appropriate action for them to take at this time?
 
         Kli Yakar explains that the nesi’im were guilty of underestimating the sincerity of Klal Yisrael by thinking that they would not contribute generously to the call of Moshe. A true leader must believe in his people. The nesi’im should have stepped forward at that historic moment, offered the first contribution, and inspired the other people by their personal example. Kli Yakar explains that that touch of superiority in the attitude of the nesi’im resulted in the departure of the letter ‘yud‘ of Hashem’s name from the title of nesi’im. (The Gemara mentions on several occasions that Hashem’s presence is found in the company of humility.)
 
         The nesi’im internalized the lessons they learned from the experience of their delayed gifts. They were the first to offer karbanos the moment the Mizbeach was inaugurated. (The Chofetz Chaim points out that in Parshas Naso, the Torah repeats again and again the exact gift that each nasi brought to the Mishkan, even though each and every sacrifice was exactly the same as the others. He explains that the Torah is teaching us the great value of working together, selflessly, for the honor of Hashem.)
 

Looking up to the Kohen Gadol

 

         I would like to propose that the nesi’im offered the precious stones worn by the Kohen Gadol as recognition of the lessons they learned from this incident. They sought to direct their attention and the focus of future generation of Jews to the Kohen Gadol – the spiritual leader of Hashem’s people. Simple folk and kings alike would turn to the stones on his Choshen Mishpat for direction and advice. By donating these stones, they validated the primacy of Hashem’s word in our daily lives, and the need to actively seek the guidance of Torah leaders on matters of importance.
 
         How ironic and fitting it is that the stones that were donated as a result of the initial actions of the nesi’im bear the names of the shevatim (tribes) but no mention of the donors of these incredibly expensive gifts. The individual names of the nesi’im are, however, read each year in Parshas Naso, as we remember their inspired and selfless acts of generosity.
 
         The nesi’im are teaching us timeless lessons through their recorded actions – to lead when the opportunity for a mitzvah is at hand, to reflect when an (even well-intentioned) error is made, to correct our course at the earliest opportunity, and to turn to Torah leaders for direction in our lives.
 
         Princes indeed!
 

         Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

It’s hard to imagine life without them, and yet they almost never came into being. I refer to the ubiquitous “Post-it Notes” that adorn the furnishings and appliances in all our houses and offices. In 1968 Spencer Silver, who worked as a research scientist at 3M, invented the semi-sticky glue while experimenting with different types of glues to use on adhesive tape. “Silver’s adhesive was revolutionary, because it could stick and come unstuck without ruining the surface it touched” (100 Great Businesses and the Minds Behind Them by Emily Ross and Angus Holland; Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, Illinois 2006; p.49).
 
Silver’s problem was that although he showed his invention to other researchers at the company, nobody could find a use for his weak adhesive. So his invention was shelved. In 1974, however, things would change. Art Fry, a fellow researcher of Silver, was a member of a church choir. During a rehearsal he became frustrated when the paper bookmarks he used to mark the hymns his choir was singing kept falling out. Remembering a presentation that Silver had made regarding his semi-sticky glue, Fry realized that, “he could mark the pages with sticky bookmarks without damaging the book” (Ibid.).
 
3M then began the long process of developing and testing the product for its marketability. Some executives at 3M feared that people would never pay for a mere alternative to scrap paper. But Art Fry did not give up. He constantly worked on ways to manufacture the sticky bookmarks that used Spencer’s glue as their adhesive. After several years of testing the Post-it Note hit the market in 1980, becoming an instant success. Today there are more then 1000 varieties of Post-it Notes available for purchase.
 
What is most amazing about this story is not Spencer’s invention or Fry’s happenchance discovery of a use for the glue. Oddly enough, things like that happen all the time. Rather, the most impressive part of this story is that Fry did not get distracted and saw his project through. Often great ideas never become a reality due to the lack of fortitude to see the concept through all the stages of development. This becomes especially acute when the development process hits bureaucratic snags and technical setbacks. Fry, however, viewed these realities as “par for the course in the innovation process” (p.50).
 
Leaders would do well to learn from Art Fry. Leadership is not just about articulating a vision. It’s about nurturing it down the long and arduous road until its realization. A person who can craft a vision but lacks the character to overcome the inevitable obstacles is no leader. Unfortunately, vision articulation gets all the glory. In truth, vision articulation without vision nurturing amounts to nothing. In this week’s parsha Yitzchak exposes us to the importance of vision nurturing – a job he spent his entire life doing.
 
Near the end of the parsha when Eliezer is returning with Rivka to marry Yitzchak, we see Yitzchak: “going out to the field to talk towards evening” (Bereishit 24:63). Several commentators offer explanations that seem to be mutually exclusive of what Yitzchak was doing. The Rashbam, who throughout his commentary emphasizes the literal meaning of the narrative, comments that Yitzchak went out to check on his workers and property. Rashi, as well as the Seforno, Kli Yakar and many others explain, based on the Gemara in Berachot (26b), that Yitzchak went out towards evening to daven Mincha. In fact, it was at this time that Yitzchak introduced to the world the concept of davening in the afternoon. Additionally, the Kli Yakar quotes the Gemara in Berachot (6b) that underscores the importance of Mincha by describing how Eliyahu HaNavi was answered on Har Carmel at Mincha time.
 
If we study Yitzchak’s actions in light of both approaches to the verse, we can better understand the importance of what Yitzchak did. The time of day under discussion certainly seems right for Yitzchak to be checking on the day’s work. Yet the importance of Mincha is that precisely in the middle of everything, we must stop and pray. One can certainly understand the importance of davening in the morning – when we set our goals for the day and are encouraged by the dawn of a new day. The importance of Arvit is also quite understandable. At the end of the day it is important to take stock of the past day’s events and to plan for tomorrow. Additionally, it is relatively easy to remember to daven at these times.
 
Mincha on the other hand is smack in the middle of the day. It is often difficult to stop what we’re doing and remember to pray. Moreover, stopping to pray breaks the momentum of what we’re doing. Yitzchak taught us the importance of taking a break midstream to refocus our efforts and to remember the reason we are in this world and the vision we are pursuing. Despite being stuck in the minutia of our daily lives, Mincha forces us to keep our eye on the prize and to maintain the fortitude to see things through.
 
Yitzchak is often described as simply continuing the vision that his father Avraham articulated. This is a great disservice to him. In fact it is Yitzchak’s nursing of that vision which ultimately allowed it to be realized in Yaakov’s family. Yitzchak’s life is a string of events that forced him to maintain the vision despite many obstacles. The mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:2) states that it took ten generations from Noach until Avraham for monotheism to take hold. If not for Yitzchak, Avraham’s vision of a world based on monotheism and chesed might have remained on the shelf for another 10 generations.
 

Rabbi David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

It’s hard to imagine life without them, and yet they almost never came into being. I refer to the ubiquitous “Post-it Notes” that adorn the furnishings and appliances in all our houses and offices. In 1968 Spencer Silver, who worked as a research scientist at 3M, invented the semi-sticky glue while experimenting with different types of glues to use on adhesive tape. “Silver’s adhesive was revolutionary, because it could stick and come unstuck without ruining the surface it touched” (100 Great Businesses and the Minds Behind Them by Emily Ross and Angus Holland; Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, Illinois 2006; p.49).
 
Silver’s problem was that although he showed his invention to other researchers at the company, nobody could find a use for his weak adhesive. So his invention was shelved. In 1974, however, things would change. Art Fry, a fellow researcher of Silver, was a member of a church choir. During a rehearsal he became frustrated when the paper bookmarks he used to mark the hymns his choir was singing kept falling out. Remembering a presentation that Silver had made regarding his semi-sticky glue, Fry realized that, “he could mark the pages with sticky bookmarks without damaging the book” (Ibid.).
 
3M then began the long process of developing and testing the product for its marketability. Some executives at 3M feared that people would never pay for a mere alternative to scrap paper. But Art Fry did not give up. He constantly worked on ways to manufacture the sticky bookmarks that used Spencer’s glue as their adhesive. After several years of testing the Post-it Note hit the market in 1980, becoming an instant success. Today there are more then 1000 varieties of Post-it Notes available for purchase.
 
What is most amazing about this story is not Spencer’s invention or Fry’s happenchance discovery of a use for the glue. Oddly enough, things like that happen all the time. Rather, the most impressive part of this story is that Fry did not get distracted and saw his project through. Often great ideas never become a reality due to the lack of fortitude to see the concept through all the stages of development. This becomes especially acute when the development process hits bureaucratic snags and technical setbacks. Fry, however, viewed these realities as “par for the course in the innovation process” (p.50).
 
Leaders would do well to learn from Art Fry. Leadership is not just about articulating a vision. It’s about nurturing it down the long and arduous road until its realization. A person who can craft a vision but lacks the character to overcome the inevitable obstacles is no leader. Unfortunately, vision articulation gets all the glory. In truth, vision articulation without vision nurturing amounts to nothing. In this week’s parsha Yitzchak exposes us to the importance of vision nurturing – a job he spent his entire life doing.
 
Near the end of the parsha when Eliezer is returning with Rivka to marry Yitzchak, we see Yitzchak: “going out to the field to talk towards evening” (Bereishit 24:63). Several commentators offer explanations that seem to be mutually exclusive of what Yitzchak was doing. The Rashbam, who throughout his commentary emphasizes the literal meaning of the narrative, comments that Yitzchak went out to check on his workers and property. Rashi, as well as the Seforno, Kli Yakar and many others explain, based on the Gemara in Berachot (26b), that Yitzchak went out towards evening to daven Mincha. In fact, it was at this time that Yitzchak introduced to the world the concept of davening in the afternoon. Additionally, the Kli Yakar quotes the Gemara in Berachot (6b) that underscores the importance of Mincha by describing how Eliyahu HaNavi was answered on Har Carmel at Mincha time.
 
If we study Yitzchak’s actions in light of both approaches to the verse, we can better understand the importance of what Yitzchak did. The time of day under discussion certainly seems right for Yitzchak to be checking on the day’s work. Yet the importance of Mincha is that precisely in the middle of everything, we must stop and pray. One can certainly understand the importance of davening in the morning – when we set our goals for the day and are encouraged by the dawn of a new day. The importance of Arvit is also quite understandable. At the end of the day it is important to take stock of the past day’s events and to plan for tomorrow. Additionally, it is relatively easy to remember to daven at these times.
 
Mincha on the other hand is smack in the middle of the day. It is often difficult to stop what we’re doing and remember to pray. Moreover, stopping to pray breaks the momentum of what we’re doing. Yitzchak taught us the importance of taking a break midstream to refocus our efforts and to remember the reason we are in this world and the vision we are pursuing. Despite being stuck in the minutia of our daily lives, Mincha forces us to keep our eye on the prize and to maintain the fortitude to see things through.
 
Yitzchak is often described as simply continuing the vision that his father Avraham articulated. This is a great disservice to him. In fact it is Yitzchak’s nursing of that vision which ultimately allowed it to be realized in Yaakov’s family. Yitzchak’s life is a string of events that forced him to maintain the vision despite many obstacles. The mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:2) states that it took ten generations from Noach until Avraham for monotheism to take hold. If not for Yitzchak, Avraham’s vision of a world based on monotheism and chesed might have remained on the shelf for another 10 generations.
 

Rabbi David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

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