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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi David Hertzberg’

Parshat Vayechi

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

December 1862 was a terrible month for Abraham Lincoln. General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg had just defeated his principal army, the Army of the Potomac. As a result, the Radical Republican senators felt that now was the time to force Lincoln to push the war more vigorously. More importantly, they wanted to replace Secretary of State Seward who was viewed as the power behind Lincoln.

Based on information, sent to them by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon B. Chase, they felt that Seward controlled the President, prevented the cabinet from helping the President and, “hindered Lincoln’s intention to make the war a crusade for emancipation” (Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster New York, 2005, p.486).

In letters to the senators, Chase implied, among other things, that had the members of the cabinet, especially himself, been consulted by Lincoln the country would not be in the bad situation it currently found itself in. Based on Chase’s information the senators felt Seward had to be replaced in order for the Union to win the war. To press the issue, the senators selected a Committee of Nine to visit Lincoln and demand Seward’s dismissal. The Committee arrived on December 18.

While Lincoln dreaded the meeting, he heard them out. At the meeting’s conclusion, despite being depressed, Lincoln realized he had to work this problem out himself and do it in a creative, non-confrontational manner. He had to demonstrate that his cabinet was both consulted and united. Additionally, he had to expose Chase’s duplicity and prove Seward’s indispensability. Not one to feel sorry for himself, Lincoln got to work.

Lincoln invited all the members of the cabinet other than Seward to a meeting at the White House on December 19. Unbeknownst to them he also invited the Committee of Nine. Among the cabinet members present was Salmon Chase. When Chase saw the joint session he panicked, “since tales of the malfunctioning cabinet had originated largely with his own statements to the senators” (p.491). In front of the senators, Lincoln asked his cabinet members whether major issues had been discussed with them. All of them concurred – even Chase.

Additionally, Chase was forced to publicly concede, that Seward did not object to the Emancipation Proclamation and was not soft on slavery. Rather, in actuality, “Seward had suggested amendments that substantially strengthened it” (p.492). Forced to admit, in front of the senators that he had been disingenuous, Chase felt compelled to resign. Lincoln accepted his resignation and placed it in a drawer. Lincoln let Chase know that for now his job was safe, but if he ever showed disloyalty again (which he eventually did) he would be dismissed from office.

Lincoln, by rebounding from his depression and creatively tackling the crisis he faced, achieved firm control of his cabinet and silenced the attacks by the Radical Republicans. “For Lincoln, the most serious governmental crisis of his presidency had ended in victory. He had treated the senators with dignity and respect and, in the process, had protected the integrity and autonomy of his cabinet” (p.494).

In this week’s parshah Yaakov blessed Yehudah and assigned him the leadership of Bnei Yisrael. As part of the blessing the Torah states (49:9): “Judah is a lion cubhe crouches and lies down like a lion” Many works quote a beautiful insight in the name of the first Rebbe of Ger, the Chiddushei HaRim. The Torah’s choice of words captures the essence of Yehudah’s character. Although at times he is forced to crouch down and deal with setbacks, he ultimately responds like a lion and gets back up with renewed vigor and strength. As leaders, Yehudah and his descendants had to deal with local failures and disappointments. However, as leaders they also knew that they had to move on and exploit the opportunities such setbacks presented. People of lesser character would have surrendered to circumstance.

We can discern a second leadership character trait of Yehudah when we contrast him with Reuven. When Yaakov blessed Reuven, the Torah described (49:4) Reuven as being “hasty like water.” In other words, Reuven often acted impulsively. While impulsivity is called for at times (e.g. jumping into save a life) it is a bad character trait for a leader who must think things through. Yehudah, although capable of acting when necessary, always acted deliberately and after careful evaluation. Whether it was by patiently judging Tamar, waiting out Yaakov during the famine, or approaching Yosef, Yehudah always had a plan.

Rabbeinu Bachaya learns an additional important leadership lesson from the letters of the blessing. Within the text of Yehudah’s blessing every letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used except the letter zayin. When viewed as a word zayin means weapons. In light of this, Rabbeinu Bachaya explains that the Torah is teaching us a critical lesson. Yehudah’s leadership will ultimately succeed due to G-d’s providence and not because of Yehudah’s military prowess. Although as leaders, the children of Yehudah will at times need to resort to military force, the absence of the letter zayin is a permanent reminder that G-d is the source of all successes and failures.

Based upon Rabbeinu Bachaya’s explanation, Rav Avraham Korman in his work HaParsha L’doroteha offers an interesting addendum. Although, leaders must be prepared to use force, the Torah, by avoiding using the letter zayin, is instructing leaders that if they want their leadership to be truly effective, they should rely on approaches based on persuasion and inspiration. Force should only be used as a last resort.

Abraham Lincoln intuitively understood these important leadership lessons. All leaders should heed them as well. Leaders must learn to bounce back, plan perfectly and influence ingeniously.

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.

Parshat Vayigash

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Section 456 (g) 1 of The Military Selective Service Act (as amended through July 9, 2003) states: “Regular or duly ordained ministers of religion shall be exempt from training and service.” Based on this clause, clergy, including rabbis, have been exempt from the draft since the Civil War. The essential rationales for this exemption are twofold. The first is the realization that clergy serve an important role in society; to deprive people of their clergy would be detrimental in the long run. The second is that “those who are dedicated to preaching G-d’s peace should not have their hands stained with the blood of human war” (TIME Magazine April 7, 1967, “Should Ministers Be Draft-Exempt?”). Even though there are “just wars,” clergy who oppose war on principle should not be forced to serve.

Interestingly enough, at the height of the Vietnam War, there was opposition to this exemption from some clergy themselves. By being exempt, clergy who vigorously opposed the war could not protest the war by being conscientious objectors. By having the exemption withdrawn they would be able to register on record as objectors.

An interesting concern highlighted in the TIME article is more mundane. Some clergymen felt that “exemption from service unfairly and unnecessarily sets the cleric apart as a privileged member of society.”

The exemption of clergy from military service was not an American innovation. In fact, it was a carry over from Europe, where clergy had been exempt from service, as well as from various state taxes. A review of this week’s parshah demonstrates that clergy already enjoyed a protected status from Biblical times. When Yosef, at the height of the famine, redistributed the land in Egypt (40:21), he left the priests’ property alone. The Torah states (40:22): “Only the land of the priests he did not purchase, since it is a law from Pharaoh, and they ate their allotted portion that Pharaoh gave them, therefore they did not sell their land.”

Rashi, in his commentary to passuk 21, explains why Yosef moved all the Egyptian people from their original property after he purchased their land. Yosef was concerned that his brothers would be viewed with disdain since they were immigrants. By moving the entire population around, everybody in a sense was a newcomer, thus lessening his brothers’ embarrassment. While this explanation helps us understand why Yosef purchased the land and moved people around, it does not help us understand why he left the priests’ property alone.

A simple historical explanation is that in ancient times kings were very much at the mercy of the clerics. It is therefore no surprise that the priests were exempt from Yosef’s policy. Pharaoh could not chance alienating such an important group of people. The literal reading of the verse supports this since it attributes the policy to Pharaoh. The Rosh in his commentary, however, attributes the policy to Yosef. When Potifar’s wife accused Yosef, it was the priests who came to his defense by examining the location of the tear in Yosef’s garment. In appreciation of this gesture, Yosef returned the favor to the priests by not taking their land.

Later commentaries explain Yosef’s policy as a proactive measure to save Bnei Yisrael. By exempting all priestly classes in Egypt from taxes, Yosef paved the way for the tribe of Levi’s exemption from slavery. According to this approach Yosef was the initiator of the policy and Pharaoh went along with it. What Pharaoh did not realize was that by allowing the priests of all nations living in Egypt to enjoy a special status, he was ensuring that the guardians of Bnei Yisrael’s religious conscious and vision would be available throughout the hard years of slavery to encourage and inspire the Jewish people. Had the tribe of Levi been enslaved as well, all would have been lost. There would have been nobody to prevent total assimilation and spiritual despair.

As we saw with respect to the Military Selective Service Act, many countries for one reason or another, have found it prudent to exempt clergy from military service. Often the reasons are political and not spiritual in nature. However, we learn from Yosef’s example that every organization would be wise to have people who are assigned the responsibility to encourage others and help them stay focused on the vision. This is especially true on those days when the minutiae they are involved with threaten to overwhelm them.

I recall many years ago once being on a three- day overnight in camp. Being on the chinuch (educational) staff, I was not directly involved in setting up the campsite. While the counselors who were in charge of setting up the site were organizing their campers, it suddenly began to pour. The counselors began running around feverishly trying to set up the camp as quickly as possible. Although not directly involved in the setup, I went in the rain from counselor to counselor joking with them and encouraging them. Unfortunately, the trip was canceled, but I nonetheless learned a valuable lesson that day. When we returned to camp one of the senior counselors told me that he appreciated my being there. He especially appreciated that I was willing to get drenched to encourage them, and that I didn’t stay on the side in the dry shed. At the time I didn’t give it much thought. But I realized after his comments that I also played an important role that day.

Organizations need to follow Yosef’s example and make sure when the inevitable dark days come there will people available to direct its members towards the light.

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 Vayigash

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

      Section 456 (g) 1 of The Military Selective Service Act (as amended through July 9, 2003) states: “Regular or duly ordained ministers of religionshall be exempt from training and service.” Based on this clause, clergy, including rabbis, have been exempt from the draft since the Civil War. The essential rationales for this exemption are twofold. The first is the realization that clergy serve an important role in society; to deprive people of their clergy would be detrimental in the long run. The second is that “those who are dedicated to preaching G-d’s peace should not have their hands stained with the blood of human war” (TIMEMagazine April 7, 1967, “Should Ministers Be Draft-Exempt?”). Even though there are “just wars,” clergy who oppose war on principle should not be forced to serve.
 
         Interestingly enough, at the height of the Vietnam War, there was opposition to this exemption from some clergy themselves. By being exempt, clergy who vigorously opposed the war could not protest the war by being conscientious objectors. By having the exemption withdrawn they would be able to register on record as objectors.
 
         An interesting concern highlighted in the TIME article is more mundane. Some clergymen felt that “exemption from serviceunfairly and unnecessarily sets the cleric apart as a privileged member of society.”
 
         The exemption of clergy from military service was not an American innovation. In fact, it was a carry over from Europe, where clergy had been exempt from service, as well as from various state taxes. A review of this week’s parshah demonstrates that clergy already enjoyed a protected status from Biblical times. When Yosef, at the height of the famine, redistributed the land in Egypt (40:21), he left the priests’ property alone. The Torah states (40:22): “Only the land of the priests he did not purchase, since it is a law from Pharaoh, and they ate their allotted portion that Pharaoh gave them, therefore they did not sell their land.”
 
         Rashi, in his commentary to passuk 21, explains why Yosef moved all the Egyptian people from their original property after he purchased their land. Yosef was concerned that his brothers would be viewed with disdain since they were immigrants. By moving the entire population around, everybody in a sense was a newcomer, thus lessening his brothers’ embarrassment. While this explanation helps us understand why Yosef purchased the land and moved people around, it does not help us understand why he left the priests’ property alone.
 
         A simple historical explanation is that in ancient times kings were very much at the mercy of the clerics. It is therefore no surprise that the priests were exempt from Yosef’s policy. Pharaoh could not chance alienating such an important group of people. The literal reading of the verse supports this since it attributes the policy to Pharaoh. The Rosh in his commentary, however, attributes the policy to Yosef. When Potifar’s wife accused Yosef, it was the priests who came to his defense by examining the location of the tear in Yosef’s garment. In appreciation of this gesture, Yosef returned the favor to the priests by not taking their land.
 
         Later commentaries explain Yosef’s policy as a proactive measure to save Bnei Yisrael. By exempting all priestly classes in Egypt from taxes, Yosef paved the way for the tribe of Levi’s exemption from slavery. According to this approach Yosef was the initiator of the policy and Pharaoh went along with it. What Pharaoh did not realize was that by allowing the priests of all nations living in Egypt to enjoy a special status, he was ensuring that the guardians of Bnei Yisrael’s religious conscious and vision would be available throughout the hard years of slavery to encourage and inspire the Jewish people. Had the tribe of Levi been enslaved as well, all would have been lost. There would have been nobody to prevent total assimilation and spiritual despair.
 
         As we saw with respect to the Military Selective Service Act, many countries for one reason or another, have found it prudent to exempt clergy from military service. Often the reasons are political and not spiritual in nature. However, we learn from Yosef’s example that every organization would be wise to have people who are assigned the responsibility to encourage others and help them stay focused on the vision. This is especially true on those days when the minutiae they are involved with threaten to overwhelm them.
 
         I recall many years ago once being on a three- day overnight in camp. Being on the chinuch (educational) staff, I was not directly involved in setting up the campsite. While the counselors who were in charge of setting up the site were organizing their campers, it suddenly began to pour. The counselors began running around feverishly trying to set up the camp as quickly as possible. Although not directly involved in the setup, I went in the rain from counselor to counselor joking with them and encouraging them. Unfortunately, the trip was canceled, but I nonetheless learned a valuable lesson that day. When we returned to camp one of the senior counselors told me that he appreciated my being there. He especially appreciated that I was willing to get drenched to encourage them, and that I didn’t stay on the side in the dry shed. At the time I didn’t give it much thought. But I realized after his comments that I also played an important role that day.
 
         Organizations need to follow Yosef’s example and make sure when the inevitable dark days come there will people available to direct its members towards the light.
 

         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 Mikeitz

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

      “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” might be a clich?, but people ignore it at their own peril. Whether a person is going for a job interview, trying to sell a product or trying to convince people to join his organization, the first impression is critical. It can make the difference between success and failure. The first impression frames the “ideal” picture of a person (or product) for people seeing him for the first time.
 
         Looking back to when I was in seventh grade, I realize now that one of my teachers taught me this lesson in a very real way. As a young teacher, this person felt he could increase his influence with his students by playing ball with them. If his students respected him as a ball player, they would be more open to his suggestions for taking their Judaism more seriously. To convince them of his ball playing ability he came down to the gym one day after school. Everybody was shooting around when he got on the court and joined us.
 
         Shooting from the top of the key he took ten shots – nine of which went in swish. Leaving the gym later that evening he explained to me that it was imperative that he hit those first shots. The students’ opinion of his ball playing would be determined in those first five minutes. Because he hit those first baskets, even if in the future he would miss a lot of his shots, the kids would think that he was just having a bad day. But had he missed those first shots, no matter how many baskets he would make in the future, the kids would merely attribute it to luck. Thus, that first night on the court determined the ideal picture my friends and I had of him as a ball player.
 
         The message of this story applies to all walks of life. Leaders must be especially sensitive to the importance of making good personal impressions, as well as presenting their organizations to prospective members in the best possible light.
 
         In this week’s parshah, Yosef realized that his future came down to the first impression he would make on Pharaoh. Whether he would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life or become a major player in Am Yisrael’s destiny would be determined in the first few minutes of his encounter with Pharaoh. In light of this, we understand Rashi’s comment (41:14) that he shaved and dressed in a manner respectful and appropriate for meeting the king. Yosef recognized the opportunity G-d was giving him. He realized that meeting Pharaoh under such crisis-laden circumstances was no less than a job interview. As such, Yosef understood the importance of appearing in a distinguished manner, so that Pharaoh could envision him serving in his court.
 
         The key for Yosef, however, was with respect to how he would interpret Pharaoh’s dream. In this regard as well, Yosef impressed Pharaoh. Realizing that Yosef was guided by G-d, Pharaoh hired him immediately. The impression was so strong that Pharaoh proclaimed to Yosef (41:39): “there is no one as understanding and intelligent as you are.” To appreciate this episode in contemporary terms, as soon as Pharaoh was convinced of what needed to be done to avoid the crisis, he ended the interviewing process and hired the first job candidate. You can’t make a better first impression than that.
 
         The importance of making a good first impression helps us understand a fascinating answer of Rav Yosef Engel (1859 −1920) in his work Gilyonei HaShas (Shabbat 21b) to the Pnei Yehoshua’s question regarding the necessity of the Chashmonaim finding a jug of tahor oil. Since the law is that, if the majority of people are tameh, the Temple service can be performed b’tumah, it seems that the Menorah could have been kindled with impure oil, with no harm suffered. The essence of Rav Engel’s answer is that although, generally speaking, tumah is permitted in the Temple when people are temaim en masse (as was the case by Chanukah), this rule does not apply when a holy utensil or a Kohen is initiated into the Temple service. The reason is that the initiation sets the tone for the future. If at the initiation tumah is allowed, it will not bode well for the future. The ideal of this particular utensil or Kohen will be forever tainted in people’s minds.
 
         On Chanukah the Chashmonaim were rededicating the Temple after several years of its being defiled. The lighting of the Menorah marked the rededicated Temple’s initiation. As such, the actions of the Chashmonaim during the rededication set the tone for the Temple’s future. The Chashmonaim, according to Rav Engel, did not want to rely on the leniency of tumah being permitted en masse. Too much was at stake. Under the leadership of Yehudah, the Chashmonaim understood what all leaders have to realize − “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
 

         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 Mikeitz

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

      “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” might be a clich?, but people ignore it at their own peril. Whether a person is going for a job interview, trying to sell a product or trying to convince people to join his organization, the first impression is critical. It can make the difference between success and failure. The first impression frames the “ideal” picture of a person (or product) for people seeing him for the first time.
 
         Looking back to when I was in seventh grade, I realize now that one of my teachers taught me this lesson in a very real way. As a young teacher, this person felt he could increase his influence with his students by playing ball with them. If his students respected him as a ball player, they would be more open to his suggestions for taking their Judaism more seriously. To convince them of his ball playing ability he came down to the gym one day after school. Everybody was shooting around when he got on the court and joined us.
 
         Shooting from the top of the key he took ten shots – nine of which went in swish. Leaving the gym later that evening he explained to me that it was imperative that he hit those first shots. The students’ opinion of his ball playing would be determined in those first five minutes. Because he hit those first baskets, even if in the future he would miss a lot of his shots, the kids would think that he was just having a bad day. But had he missed those first shots, no matter how many baskets he would make in the future, the kids would merely attribute it to luck. Thus, that first night on the court determined the ideal picture my friends and I had of him as a ball player.
 
         The message of this story applies to all walks of life. Leaders must be especially sensitive to the importance of making good personal impressions, as well as presenting their organizations to prospective members in the best possible light.
 
         In this week’s parshah, Yosef realized that his future came down to the first impression he would make on Pharaoh. Whether he would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life or become a major player in Am Yisrael’s destiny would be determined in the first few minutes of his encounter with Pharaoh. In light of this, we understand Rashi’s comment (41:14) that he shaved and dressed in a manner respectful and appropriate for meeting the king. Yosef recognized the opportunity G-d was giving him. He realized that meeting Pharaoh under such crisis-laden circumstances was no less than a job interview. As such, Yosef understood the importance of appearing in a distinguished manner, so that Pharaoh could envision him serving in his court.
 
         The key for Yosef, however, was with respect to how he would interpret Pharaoh’s dream. In this regard as well, Yosef impressed Pharaoh. Realizing that Yosef was guided by G-d, Pharaoh hired him immediately. The impression was so strong that Pharaoh proclaimed to Yosef (41:39): “there is no one as understanding and intelligent as you are.” To appreciate this episode in contemporary terms, as soon as Pharaoh was convinced of what needed to be done to avoid the crisis, he ended the interviewing process and hired the first job candidate. You can’t make a better first impression than that.
 
         The importance of making a good first impression helps us understand a fascinating answer of Rav Yosef Engel (1859 −1920) in his work Gilyonei HaShas (Shabbat 21b) to the Pnei Yehoshua’s question regarding the necessity of the Chashmonaim finding a jug of tahor oil. Since the law is that, if the majority of people are tameh, the Temple service can be performed b’tumah, it seems that the Menorah could have been kindled with impure oil, with no harm suffered. The essence of Rav Engel’s answer is that although, generally speaking, tumah is permitted in the Temple when people are temaim en masse (as was the case by Chanukah), this rule does not apply when a holy utensil or a Kohen is initiated into the Temple service. The reason is that the initiation sets the tone for the future. If at the initiation tumah is allowed, it will not bode well for the future. The ideal of this particular utensil or Kohen will be forever tainted in people’s minds.
 
         On Chanukah the Chashmonaim were rededicating the Temple after several years of its being defiled. The lighting of the Menorah marked the rededicated Temple’s initiation. As such, the actions of the Chashmonaim during the rededication set the tone for the Temple’s future. The Chashmonaim, according to Rav Engel, did not want to rely on the leniency of tumah being permitted en masse. Too much was at stake. Under the leadership of Yehudah, the Chashmonaim understood what all leaders have to realize − “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
 

         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 Toldot

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

        Abraham Lincoln didn’t hold a grudge. In 1862 when he visited General McClellan in his house to discuss strategy and was ignored by the general, Lincoln took it in stride. When asked by supporters why he didn’t fire the general, for such blatant disrespect, Lincoln responded that all he wants from General McClellan is a victory “and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse.” While McClellan ultimately proved a failure and was relieved of command by Lincoln, it was for reasons of competence and not personal animosity.
 
         Other people who tested Lincoln’s patience were the members of his Cabinet. Although he masterfully managed most of them, one secretary who remained a constant thorn in Lincoln’s side was the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. Despite his nonstop scheming against Lincoln and his multiple attempts to replace him as the Republican candidate for president, Lincoln nonetheless kept him in charge of the treasury. When in June 1864 he finally accepted Chase’s resignation (to Chase’s surprise), he never discounted Chase’s intelligence, abilities and commitment to the Union. It was therefore not a total shock when Lincoln nominated Chase to be the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court upon the death of Chief Justice Roger Taney. Despite Lincoln’s personal issues with Chase, he realized that Chase was the right man for the job.
 
         Lincoln realized that as leader of a country at war, he had no time to let personal feelings get in the way of what was best for the country. Tough decisions had to be made for progress to happen. Thus, personal feelings could not be allowed to affect decisions, nor could decisions be allowed to affect personal feelings. Lincoln was able to hire people he didn’t like and fire those he did like if they didn’t perform. Any leader who allows his personal feelings to affect his decision-making will compromise himself, as a leader.
 
         Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch illustrates this point from a careful reading of the verses describing Rivkah and her relationship to Esav, after Yaakov received Yitzchak’s blessing instead of Esav. The Torah states (Bereishit 27:42): “And it was told to Rivkah the words of Esav her older son and she sent and called Yaakov her younger son and told him that Esav is contemplating murdering you.” Additionally, when the Torah relates that Yaakov went to Lavan’s house, it describes Lavan as “The brother of Rivkah the mother of Yaakov and Esav” (28:5).
 
         Rav Hirsch explains that Rivkah had to make difficult decisions for the good of the future nation of Israel. However, at no point in time was her decision motivated by any personal hatred of Esav. Rather, Rav Hirsch writes that even “After all these events Esav remained the first born and Yaakov the younger brotherin everything Rivkah did, she remained the mother of both Yaakov and Esav, and she functioned as a mother until she died.”
 
         Rav Hirsch further points out that Rivkah maintained this attitude despite Esav’s overreaction and inability to admit that he was responsible for what happened by mocking the birthright and selling it to Yaakov. Most people under such circumstances would develop tremendous feelings of animosity towards a character such as Esav. Rivkah, however, realized that Esav could not be expected to understand her motivation and actions and certainly not to happily accept their consequences.
 
         We can imagine that as a mother Rivkah felt Esav’s pain. After all, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 67:4) describes how, ultimately, Bnei Yisrael were punished for Yaakov causing Esav to cry. We can certainly therefore expect Rivkah to have empathized with Esav on some level. Yet, Rav Hirsch posits, just as Rivkah didn’t allow her decisions to change her opinion of Esav, she didn’t allow her feelings towards Esav to affect her decision. Rivkah’s leadership character enabled her to separate her maternal love from her national responsibilities.
 
         While researching this article I remembered an incident that occurred a number of years ago. A student approached me in the hall and asked if he could discuss an important personal issue with me. After hearing him describe the problem, I told him that I did not have time to talk at length with him there and then, but he should call me at home later that night. Several hours later, that same young man, along with some of his friends, was escorted to my office by a teacher for seriously misbehaving. After responding to the incident and disciplining the students I dismissed them back to class. As they were leaving my office, I saw that this young man looked especially sad. Realizing what he was thinking I called him back into my office and told him “Don’t worry; you can still call me at home later.” I explained to him that the fact that he got into trouble and I had to discipline him had nothing to do with his need to call me. Smiling, he thanked me and returned to class.
 
        Leadership can never be personal. Recently I saw this young man at a wedding and asked him if he remembered the incident. With as big a smile as he had that day years ago he said, “I sure do andthanks again.”
 

         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.

Parshat Toldot

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

        Abraham Lincoln didn’t hold a grudge. In 1862 when he visited General McClellan in his house to discuss strategy and was ignored by the general, Lincoln took it in stride. When asked by supporters why he didn’t fire the general, for such blatant disrespect, Lincoln responded that all he wants from General McClellan is a victory “and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse.” While McClellan ultimately proved a failure and was relieved of command by Lincoln, it was for reasons of competence and not personal animosity.
 
         Other people who tested Lincoln’s patience were the members of his Cabinet. Although he masterfully managed most of them, one secretary who remained a constant thorn in Lincoln’s side was the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. Despite his nonstop scheming against Lincoln and his multiple attempts to replace him as the Republican candidate for president, Lincoln nonetheless kept him in charge of the treasury. When in June 1864 he finally accepted Chase’s resignation (to Chase’s surprise), he never discounted Chase’s intelligence, abilities and commitment to the Union. It was therefore not a total shock when Lincoln nominated Chase to be the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court upon the death of Chief Justice Roger Taney. Despite Lincoln’s personal issues with Chase, he realized that Chase was the right man for the job.
 
         Lincoln realized that as leader of a country at war, he had no time to let personal feelings get in the way of what was best for the country. Tough decisions had to be made for progress to happen. Thus, personal feelings could not be allowed to affect decisions, nor could decisions be allowed to affect personal feelings. Lincoln was able to hire people he didn’t like and fire those he did like if they didn’t perform. Any leader who allows his personal feelings to affect his decision-making will compromise himself, as a leader.
 
         Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch illustrates this point from a careful reading of the verses describing Rivkah and her relationship to Esav, after Yaakov received Yitzchak’s blessing instead of Esav. The Torah states (Bereishit 27:42): “And it was told to Rivkah the words of Esav her older son and she sent and called Yaakov her younger son and told him that Esav is contemplating murdering you.” Additionally, when the Torah relates that Yaakov went to Lavan’s house, it describes Lavan as “The brother of Rivkah the mother of Yaakov and Esav” (28:5).
 
         Rav Hirsch explains that Rivkah had to make difficult decisions for the good of the future nation of Israel. However, at no point in time was her decision motivated by any personal hatred of Esav. Rather, Rav Hirsch writes that even “After all these events Esav remained the first born and Yaakov the younger brotherin everything Rivkah did, she remained the mother of both Yaakov and Esav, and she functioned as a mother until she died.”
 
         Rav Hirsch further points out that Rivkah maintained this attitude despite Esav’s overreaction and inability to admit that he was responsible for what happened by mocking the birthright and selling it to Yaakov. Most people under such circumstances would develop tremendous feelings of animosity towards a character such as Esav. Rivkah, however, realized that Esav could not be expected to understand her motivation and actions and certainly not to happily accept their consequences.
 
         We can imagine that as a mother Rivkah felt Esav’s pain. After all, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 67:4) describes how, ultimately, Bnei Yisrael were punished for Yaakov causing Esav to cry. We can certainly therefore expect Rivkah to have empathized with Esav on some level. Yet, Rav Hirsch posits, just as Rivkah didn’t allow her decisions to change her opinion of Esav, she didn’t allow her feelings towards Esav to affect her decision. Rivkah’s leadership character enabled her to separate her maternal love from her national responsibilities.
 
         While researching this article I remembered an incident that occurred a number of years ago. A student approached me in the hall and asked if he could discuss an important personal issue with me. After hearing him describe the problem, I told him that I did not have time to talk at length with him there and then, but he should call me at home later that night. Several hours later, that same young man, along with some of his friends, was escorted to my office by a teacher for seriously misbehaving. After responding to the incident and disciplining the students I dismissed them back to class. As they were leaving my office, I saw that this young man looked especially sad. Realizing what he was thinking I called him back into my office and told him “Don’t worry; you can still call me at home later.” I explained to him that the fact that he got into trouble and I had to discipline him had nothing to do with his need to call me. Smiling, he thanked me and returned to class.
 
        Leadership can never be personal. Recently I saw this young man at a wedding and asked him if he remembered the incident. With as big a smile as he had that day years ago he said, “I sure do andthanks again.”
 

         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-toldot-3/2006/11/22/

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