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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rav Hirsch’

Orthodoxy, Then and Now

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn was the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (widely known as the Frierdiker – Yiddish for “previous” – Rebbe). He served in that position for 30 years, from 1920 until his passing on Shabbos morning, January 28, 1950. He was buried at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Recently, someone sent me a link to a video clip of his levaya (www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9RSdGG6Y3E). From the clip one can see a number of external differences between Orthodoxy circa 1950 and Orthodoxy today.

First, most of the men in the crowd are wearing hats and coats that are not black. Indeed, gray seems to have been the favored color for men’s hats at the time.

Second, the majority of the men shown are clean shaven.

Third, men and women are standing together in the crowd. Apparently, no separation of the sexes was imposed upon those gathered to give the Rebbe a final tribute.

In short, this assemblage does not look anything like what one would see today at the funeral of a well-known rebbe or rosh yeshiva.

Orthodox Judaism was indeed different in 1950.

Yeshiva education was just beginning to expand, and a large number of elementary yeshiva graduates went on to public high school. Fewer went on to study in a bais medrash after high school, and fewer still entered kollel. The average level of Torah knowledge among baalei batim was nowhere near as high as it is today.

A relatively small percentage of women covered their hair. Mixed dancing was still part of the social life of many Orthodox shuls. There was little separation of the sexes, so boys and girls more often than not interacted with each other at social gatherings. The dating system so prevalent in our day was not followed by most young Orthodox men and women. (Some might argue that this was a plus.)

It was indeed a very different Orthodox world.

Today we can point to many improvements. These include, but are certainly not limited to, a probably unprecedented commitment to and level of Torah study on the part of Orthodox young people; a considerably higher level of tzinius – modesty – in many circles; a sharp increase in daily synagogue attendance; stricter kashrus standards, including the use of chalav Yisrael products, by many; a proliferation of chesed organizations; a more stringent approach to shmiras Shabbos by those who consider themselves Orthodox; and a surprising number of Mincha minyanim – a phenomenon that hardly existed years ago – in some cities.

Each of us can undoubtedly add more items to this list. But there’s no denying the fact that today, more careful attention is given to the performance of mitzvos – some of which were often neglected in the fifties.

* * *

The above is indeed good news for Orthodoxy. Still, there are those who feel there is much missing from today’s Orthodoxy. They decry what they believe is an unhealthy focus on appearances and chumros at the expense of good middos and ehrlichkeit.

Many who project the image of being very frum seem at the same time to be overly concerned with materialism.

True, more women cover their hair today, but some seem to think nothing of spending a small fortune on a shaitel. Only the finest name-brand apparel will do for many families. It is not uncommon to see an observant man driving a car that costs as much as some people make in a year.

Emphasis on form at the expense of substance seems to be in vogue; image is all important to far too many. Some of our children have come to think that this emphasis on externalities is the acid test of religious observance.

A friend of mine once told me that after his children had viewed the wedding album of his parents, they asked, “Abba, were Bobby and Zaidy Jewish when they got married?”

There are other real differences between the nature of Orthodoxy in the 1950s and Orthodoxy today.

Chillul Hashem – desecration of God’s name – has become all too prevalent. I cringe whenever I see the media report on so-called frum Jews in an unflattering light. I am not implying that there was no wrongdoing years ago. There certainly was.

Nonetheless, it seems that what has transpired with far too much regularity in recent years has resulted in a most unflattering light being trained on Orthodox Jews.

In his essay “Chillul Hashem,” first published in 1975 in the periodical Mitteilungen and reprinted on pages 213 to 216 of Selected Writings (C.I.S. Publications, 1988), Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, wrote:

The second sentence of Sh’ma Yisroel begins with the command: “You shall love Hashem,” which is interpreted by our Sages: “Let the name of Hashem become beloved through you.” In other words, we are supposed to lead the kind of exemplary life which would contribute to the universal adoration of [Hashem] and which would, in turn, enhance the glory and lustre of the Torah, adding respect for the dignity of the Jewish people as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

The very opposite of the sanctification is the desecration of the Name as condemned by the Prophet with the scathing words (Yechezkel 36): “They came to the nations and desecrated my Holy Name, so that one said to them, is this the people of [Hashem] who came from His land?”

Every form of Chillul Hashem lowers the awareness of the Divine Presence in the world. But if the desecrator happens to be a professed Torah observer or, even worse, a so-called scholar of the Torah, then the Chillul Hashem not only weakens the respect for Torah on one hand, but strengthens on the other hand the defiance of the non-observer and adds fuel to the scoffers, fanning the fires of religious insurrection all around. Chillul Hashem is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the increase of frivolity, heresy and licentiousness in the world.

* * *

Respect for one’s elders seems to have become a thing of the past for many young people. One even encounters so-called frum adults who appear to have never learned that derech eretz toward one’s fellow man and woman should be part and parcel of one’s dealings with others.

The Torah commands us to honor our parents, our older siblings and older people in general. Indeed, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch pointed out that honoring parents is one of the foundation stones of Yahadus, because our basis for accepting the truth of the Torah is something that is passed on from one generation to the next.

When I was growing up (I was born in 1941), it was made very clear to me that you never called an adult by his or her first name. It was always “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Miss” or “Aunt” or “Uncle.” Calling an older person by his or her first name would instantly result in a rebuke from my parents.

Today I often hear children call their adult aunts or uncles by their first names. Some years ago one of my sons had a classmate over for Shabbos. (The boys were 10 years old at the time.) After Shabbos I asked our guest what he was going to do now, since his parents had gone away. He replied, “I am going to call Shloime. He will pick me up.” I asked, “Who is Shloime?” The boy replied, “My uncle.” I was taken aback at how this young man thought nothing of calling his uncle, who was, of course, an adult, by his first name.

I have asked people in their twenties and thirties and even older why they let themselves be called by their first names. They reply, “Being called ‘Uncle’ (or ‘Aunt’) makes me feel old.” They do not seem to realize that they are doing a disservice to their nieces and nephews. Allowing them to address older people by their first names fosters the idea that everyone is on an equal level. This is not true. The Torah tells us that age deserves respect, and children have to be made aware of this as often as possible.

And then there are the youngsters who push ahead of me when I am about to leave shul. Often I put my hand on the shoulder of such a fellow and say to him, somewhat facetiously, “Sir! I believe that I am a bit older than you are!” More often than not the young man has no idea what I am talking about.

I was taught that you always let an older person go through a door before you. It was just one more part of practicing derech eretz, but it seems to have been lost in many circles today.

Unfortunately, lack of derech eretz is widespread, and it evidences itself in the way all too many children and youngsters behave in yeshiva and Bais Yaakov. Fifty years ago the overwhelming majority of Orthodox parents made it very clear to their children that a key ingredient in going to yeshiva was behaving properly and treating the teachers with respect. Why is this not also the case today?

* * *

Could it be that we have become lost in the forest for the trees? While we may be outwardly more observant than people were a generation or two ago, some would maintain that our grandparents embraced far more menschlichkeit and ehrlichkeit than we see today. Their Yiddishkeit seems to have been simpler and more to the point than ours often is.

Our grandparents were able to transmit their Yiddishkeit in a fairly simple fashion. One might summarize their teachings as follows: Be a mensch, learn Torah, and make the most of every minute of every day. Keep in mind that people are watching you and they will judge Yiddishkeit by how you behave, so make sure that whatever you do is viewed as a kiddush Hashem – a sanctification of God’s name. Be sure to become self-sufficient through honest labor and contribute to the community at large. And, above all, be ehrlich in all of your dealings with others.

This message was clear and straightforward, and it led to the rebuilding of Yiddishkeit after the terrible loses that we experienced during the Holocaust. The guidance our grandparents gave their children kept them from the confusing blend of halacha, minhag, chumrah and common practice that has left too many today groping for an understanding of what is important and what is not. There were no mixed messages about what they taught the next generation, because they lived these values each and every day of their lives.

Another area in which we are sadly lacking today is that of mesiras nefesh. For some, the notion of sacrifice hardly seems to exist anymore. One can only wonder how they would react if confronted with the challenges our parents and grandparents faced in the 1950s.

No one should desire or look for tests. Still, in light of the current financial situation that is creating such difficulties for so many, now is perhaps the time for each of us to evaluate the substance upon which our religious observance is based. What should be the basis of our relationship to Hashem? How should our actions and values reflect our relationship to the Creator?

Rav Hirsch gives us insight into this. In his commentary on Shemos 20:9 – “Six days shall you serve and do all your [creating] work” – he wrote:

Not for your own glory should you do your work, by which you rule over the world. You should regard your work as “service,” service in God’s kingdom, done in the service of God. Do your work at His bidding and for the sake of His world, in which He has placed you, “to serve it and to keep it.” By appropriating, transforming and altering the world’s resources, you are to elevate this world from blind physical compulsion to the purpose of moral freedom and the service of God in freedom. [The Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Shemos, (New) English Translation by Daniel Haberman, Feldheim Publishers and Judaica Press, 2005.]

Rav Hirsch goes on to comment on Shemos 20:14 – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his servant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor”:

All “religion” and all “worship of God in heart and spirit” are worthless if they lack the power to control our words and deeds, our family life and social life. Only through our actions and way of life can we prove that we are truly and genuinely God’s servants. Conversely, all social virtue is worthless and crumbles at the first test, as long as it aims merely at outward correctness and at doing what is right in the eyes of man, but neglects inner loyalty and does not base itself on conscientiousness and on the purity of inner conviction, which only God can see and judge. [Ibid.]

Striving to accomplish this means maintaining the higher level of mitzvah observance we see today combined with the values of our grandparents. The result will be a more meaningful synthesis of externalities and our connection to Hashem, giving us the best of both worlds – in other words, a Yiddishkeit our grandparents would be proud of, and nothing less than a kiddush Hashem.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine recently retired after serving for forty years as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. His regular Jewish Press column, “Glimpses Into American Jewish History,” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

The Difference Between ‘Non-Jewish’ And ‘Un-Jewish’

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

     Not long ago posters appeared in a number of synagogues in Brooklyn banning a recently published book that, according to the posters, contained misleading halachic rulings. It certainly was not the first time a book was banned by some in the Orthodox community, and it won’t be the last.
 
      While it is not the purpose of this article to take a stand on whether a given ban is or is not justified, there is no question that observant Jews need to be careful about what they read.
 
      We have seen, over the past couple of decades, a tremendous increase in the number of books by publishing houses that cater to the Orthodox market. This is a wonderful development, as Orthodox readers can now choose from many more “appropriate” books and periodicals than was the case fifteen or twenty years ago.
 
      This does not, however, mean that every book available for purchase in a Jewish bookstore meets the standard of acceptability for every family.
 
      The situation calls to mind the multiplicity of products sold in “kosher” grocery stores. Fifteen years ago there were fewer items available under supervision than there are today, but not every product in these stores necessarily conforms to an individual’s particular kashrut standards.
 
      In short, there is no question that observant Jews have to be careful about being influenced by ideas that are not compatible with Judaism. We live in a decidedly non-Torah culture and are bombarded with messages and products that clash with our religious values. We must be discerning about what we accept from the outside world.
 
      But does this mean that everything from that world is to be rejected? We’ve all heard some people go as far as to categorically condemn anything that they consider to be “goyishe.” Are observant Jews really required to completely turn their backs on the culture around them? Must they shut themselves off from the entire gentile world?
 
      Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) lived in Germany at a time when many Jews were abandoning their religious observance. When he came to Frankfurt in 1851, he found a Jewish community controlled by “reformers” who had done their utmost to introduce non-Jewish influences into the life of a community that had once been a bastion of Jewish tradition and learning. He had to confront the issue of those influences head-on.
 

      Rav Hirsch did not condemn everything found in the surrounding culture. In an essay entitled “Religious Education” he writes,

     

         Our children need not forego the benefits of a worthwhile secular education; they need not sacrifice opportunities for the study of the arts and sciences in order to obtain all the treasures of truth and wisdom that Judaism holds for their lives. If both studies are nurtured hand in hand, there will be ample room for both; the one will reinforce the other and the result will be a Jewish education that will find favor in the eyes of both God and man.
 

         Of course, problems are bound to arise if your children receive the main part of their education at non-Jewish or (what is even more detrimental) at un-Jewish* institutions where the Jewish element in the curriculum is at best ignored or, as is mostly the case, presented from a distorted non-Jewish or un-Jewish vantage point. (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume VII, page 21.)

  

      The curious term “un-Jewish” has an asterisk next to it that refers to the following footnote: “R. Hirsch uses the term ‘un-Jewish’ (unjudisch) to mean not in the spirit of Torah Judaism, as distinct from ‘non-Jewish.’”
 
      Rav Hirsch does not lump all things of gentile origin into the same class. Some things that come from non-Jewish sources are indeed completely incompatible with Judaism. These he classifies as “un-Jewish” – to be avoided at all costs.
 
      There are, however, many things that stem from outside the Jewish world that are to be considered as “non-Jewish” – that is, their source is not from Judaism, but they are compatible with Yahadut.
 
      A simple example of something from the non-Jewish world that is entirely compatible with Judaism is the Pythagorean Theorem, which, while named after the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, almost certainly predates him. Here we have a non-Jewish piece of useful knowledge that in no way contradicts anything in Judaism. It is non-Jewish but not un-Jewish and therefore completely “pareve” when it comes to Yiddishkeit.
 
      But what exactly defines something of gentile origin that is un-Jewish and hence unpalatable for Orthodox Jews? Admittedly, it’s difficult to give clear-cut, definitive parameters. In his excellent biography Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Architect of Torah Judaism for the Modern World, Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman writes about the relationship that Heinrich Graetz, who eventually became a famous historian, had with Rav Hirsch (pages 242-243).
 
      In 1836 Graetz wrote to Rav Hirsch asking to become his student. Rav Hirsch agreed and Graetz lived in the Hirsch home for three years. In his diary “Graetz describes how he and Rabbi Hirsch began the day at four o’clock in the morning with the study of Gemara and Tehillim. He also studied Kant with Rabbi Hirsch.”
 
      In addition, “together they once read The Salon by Heinrich [Chaim] Heine, a book about the history of religion and philosophy in Germany.”
 
      Rav Hirsch obviously considered portions of the writings of these authors to be non-Jewish but not un-Jewish. For the record, Graetz eventually broke with Rav Hirsch. Indeed, Rav Hirsch eventually wrote a scathing criticism of some of Graetz’s writings, pointing out their errors and making it clear that they stemmed from Graetz’s anti-Orthodox prejudices.
 

      Insight into the basis for Rav Hirsch’s approach may perhaps be gained from the following:

     

         The realm of Jewish learning is not insular, remote from nature, from history, from the world and from the realities of life. On the contrary, it calls upon its disciples to study the heavens and the earth, to reflect on the connections that link the events and developments of history, to take an active part in every phase of physical, intellectual, moral and social life, and to gain the clearest, sharpest possible insight into all things and their relationship to one another. Moreover, consider that Hebrew, the language of the sacred literature of Judaism, because of the simple construction of its roots and forms, is singularly suited, as hardly any other, to stimulate and develop the powers of the human intellect and the aptitude for languages. As a consequence, Jewish learning can relate to every field of secular studies, helping and furthering their aims even as, in turn, it may look to secular learning for help and furtherance.
 

         And so these two areas of learning do not hamper one another, are not mutually detrimental. Rather, they can strengthen and reinforce one another in such a manner that the lofty goal toward which we strive in the education of our young can be promoted and achieved in the framework of normal school hours, without subjecting our young students to undue mental strain. And what is that goal? It is to educate our children to satisfy all the just demands that will be placed upon them by the age in which they live, on the one hand, and by Judaism, on the other. Equipped with the best of all truly humanistic training and guided by the Jewish Law of God and the heritage of our Sages that will constantly give them new strength, light, counsel, admonition and inspiration, they will be able to meet the challenges that life will hold for them. (Collected Writings VII, pages 24-25.)

 

      Rav Hirsch indicated how we should view the gentile world:

 

         The Jew knows that the good and righteous men among nations are working alongside him to build the Kingdom of God on earth. He also knows that the best seeds of the Jewish spirit have been implanted and taken root not only to rescue mankind from heathendom more than two thousand years ago but for the benefit of manifold areas of human endeavor. And then the Jew is heartened to develop all his energies in the service of God. He welcomes each new truth as a valuable contribution to the ever more penetrating revelation of God in nature and history. In each new art form, in each new science he sees a welcome addition to the means for perfecting the service and worship of God.
 
         Hence the Jew will not be opposed to any science, any art form, any culture that is truly ethical, truly moral, truly contributing to the welfare and progress of man. He will measure everything by the eternally inviolable yardstick of the teachings of his God. Nothing will exist for him that cannot stand up before the Divine Will. The more firmly he stands on the rock of his Judaism, the more conscious he becomes of his Jewish destiny, the more he will be inclined to accept and gratefully absorb all knowledge, wherever he will find it.
 

         Never at any time will the Jew sacrifice one iota of his Judaism, at no time will he bring his Judaism in conformity with the times. But he will gladly accept all values that his time will have to offer as long as they conform with the spirit of Judaism. In every age he will regard it as his task to evaluate the time and its conditions from the Jewish viewpoint in order to develop the spirit of his “old” Judaism to ever-fresh vitality, applying the new means produced by every age, with the new circumstances created by every period of history. Thus, with ever-renewed faith and devotion, he will be fully equal to the great tasks of his beloved Judaism. (Collected Writings VIII, pages 9-10.)

     

      It is clear that according to Rav Hirsch one should not reject something out of hand simply because it has a non-Jewish source. Instead, one should evaluate it to see if it is non-Jewish (simply of gentile origin) or un-Jewish (not in the spirit of Judaism). One must be most careful to stay away from all things un-Jewish. Not to do so could well lead to a lessening of one’s commitment to a Torah way of life.
 
      On the other hand, there are clearly things that come from the gentile world that need not – perhaps should not – be rejected. If something of gentile origin is non-Jewish, as opposed to being un-Jewish, then one need not reject it. On the contrary, one might very well incorporate it into one’s Torah weltanschauung and end up strengthening one’s Yiddishkeit. All gentile culture and knowledge should be evaluated in this light. The Torah does not require us to reject something of gentile origin simply because of its source.
 
      It bears repeating that the greatest care should be taken in deciding what is un-Jewish and what is non-Jewish. Such decisions have never been easy and are even harder to make today, given the moral deterioration all around us. Many things now considered acceptable by the gentile world would have been labeled scandalous thirty years ago.
 
      Indeed, there are many non-Jews who express deep and eloquent concern about the violence and immorality promoted by the media and the entertainment industry and the effect that has had on societal values.
 
      The challenge of ascertaining what is non-Jewish and what is un-Jewish is one that each of us has to deal with on one level or another. These decisions have to be made while exercising a goodly amount of seichel.
 

      Bottom line:Just because something is Jewish doesn’t make it kosher, and not everything gentile is to be considered treif.

 

              Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. His regular column, “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

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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