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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Reuven’

Connecting To The Person In Need

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

    When a person goes through hard times words of encouragement can be a big lift. However, these well-intended words can backfire if they are seen as too unrealistic by the recipient and do not connect to what the person is going through.

 

    Often it’s the context of what’s being said. If a boy grows up having difficulty walking and needs a wheelchair to go more than 50 feet, it may not make him feel so good to hear that he’s going to make the little league baseball team in a month. It’s unrealistic, and it will only unnecessarily remind him of what he can’t do.

 

    However, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of a brighter future, especially if you’re starting to make progress with some challenge you have. I was very moved when I was at the Baseball Hall of Fame to read a letter written by Babe Ruth to a young boy. By the context of the letter it was clear that the boy had great difficulty walking when he was growing up.  But it was also clear that he was making steady progress as the Babe expressed great happiness at the picture the boy sent of him riding a horse.

 

   The Babe concluded the letter by saying that he hoped that one day the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium would say, “Now replacing Babe Ruth in right field…” and then he wrote in the boy’s name. I would think the boy was thrilled to receive that letter of hope.

 

    In general it can be very positive to have someone think brightly of your future. It can give a different perspective to someone who’s going through a cycle of despair. After all, the giver of these positive words knows it is what he is thinking about the person in need. In general, it is less helpful when a person purports that he or she knows what the other person is thinking, feeling or going through.

 

    To be sure, it can be helpful if someone has a broken leg to tell what it was like when you had a broken leg. But a line is crossed when you say to that person, “I know exactly what you’re going through. I had the same thing.” No two people have the same exact injury and no two people relate to it the same way.

 

    I know of a man who was grief-stricken when his father was killed in an automobile accident. On the day he went back to work after shivah he felt numb and was just going through the motions. What he needed was a friend to draw him out and get him to relate what was going on. A well-meaning person walked up to him soon after he walked into the office and explained that she, too, had lost her father under tragic circumstances, and she knew exactly what he was going through. Then she walked away. Rather than feeling comforted, the man felt that the woman hadn’t connected one iota to what he was going through.

 

    “I’m sorry with what you’re going through” gives a person an opening to express what’s on his or her mind. Sometimes it’s not so important what you tell persons in need, but rather, it’s what they tell you that can be so beneficial to them.

 

    There is a man who has great difficulty speaking. I’ll call him Reuven. He lies in bed all day and all night. To his credit, he is able to do a lot of religious learning by memory and that gives him something stimulating and meaningful to occupy significant stretches of time. It’s wonderful when people compliment him for the great learning he does. Positive reinforcement is very important.

 

    However, there is one man who I think went too far in his compliments. He would say, “Reuven, you’re luckier than the rest of us. We have our bodies that get in the way of our spiritual needs. But you, you can focus day and night on the spiritual. You’re at a much better place than the rest of us.”

 

    And while I’m hearing this I’m thinking that maybe Reuven would love to have better use of his body, would love to have better use of his arms where he could hold his grandchildren. Better use of his legs, where he could go on outings with his family and walk to shul. If Reuven wants to think he’s in a good place, that’s great. But is it really helpful to tell an ill person, in effect, that they’re better off having an infirmity? I think not.

 

    When going to see a person in great need, it can be very challenging to know what to say. This probably keeps a number of people from visiting in the first place. But if you go and it’s a big mitzvah to do so, especially if it’s very difficult, you can just keep things nice and simple.

 

   “How are you?” could lead to a conversation that will take on it’s own natural flow. And if you know there’s something he is trying to accomplish, you can let him know you’re rooting for him and that you think he will succeed.

 

    Realistic hope, given in a caring tone of voice, with body language that says, “I’m there for you,” can go a long way.

   

      Bikur Cholim of Boro Park has organized a program that deals with the specific needs of men who are Holocaust survivors. “The Afternoon Chevra” is for retired men and meets on Monday afternoons at 1:30 p.m. at Sarah Schenirer Hall, 4622 14th Avenue. For more information contact Rabbi Baruch Krupnik at 718/249-3515.

 

    A Daf Yomi shiur open to the community is given by Rabbi Chaskel Scharf at Scharf’s Ateret Avot Senior Residence, 1410 E. 10th Street, Midwood, Brooklyn. It meets at 2:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 11:15 a.m. on Friday. Call 718/998-5400 for more information.

Did Chagall Know Hebrew?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Chagall’s Bible: Mystical StorytellingThrough January 18, 2009The Museum of Biblical Art1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New Yorkhttp://www.mobia.org/

 

 

It’s almost impossible to discuss Jewish art without mentioning Marc Chagall. One of nine children, Chagall was born in Vitebsk (now Belarus), which had about 20,000 Jews. Many biographies of Chagall stress his cheder attendance, where one would assume the young Chagall would have learned Hebrew and probably a bit of Aramaic in classes devoted to studying the Talmud.

But as even a cursory examination of the works in the fantastic show “Chagall’s Bible: Mystical Storytelling” at the Museum of Biblical Art reveals, the painter of “The Praying Jew,” “Jew in Green,” and the monumental windows at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem was virtually illiterate in Hebrew. Despite designing sets for Sholem Aleichem, finishing more than 100 plates in a series of etchings on the bible, and completing several hundred other biblical works, the artist everyone thinks of as the foremost Jewish painter ought to be reevaluated.

 

Nowhere is Chagall’s bulky Hebrew more apparent than in his window dedicated to the tribe of Levi, the original lithograph of which hangs at the MOBIA show. The work is mostly yellow (perhaps celebrating the priests, who would wear golden garments while serving alongside the golden utensils of the Tabernacle and the Temple), and it depicts two birds and two animals, which could be either donkeys or lions, surrounding what appears to be a goblet holding fish. Above the menagerie, Chagall wrote Levi properly in Hebrew, and below he laid out a Shabbat table with candles, goblets, and perhaps even loaves of challah.

 

 

Marc Chagall, Levi

 

In the middle of the table, inscribed on the two tablets of the law, is Moses’ blessing of Levi from Deuteronomy 33:10. Just before he is to die, Moses prophecies of the tribe of Levi, “They shall teach Your law to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel; they shall place incense in front of your nose, and a burnt offering on Your altar. G-d, bless his service, and accept the works of his hands; strike his enemies, so they will never rise again.” This blessing was a huge improvement on Jacob’s “blessing” of Levi in Genesis 49:5, where he called Levi (and Simeon) murderers who wield weapons of chaos (“hamas”), but in the hands of Chagall it becomes muddied.

 

Chagall’s first line is mostly correct, but on the second line, he confuses a vav with a yud in the word “Your Torah,” and instead of writing “to Israel” he writes “to G-d,” truncating the word and forgetting the second, third, and fourth letters. Needless to say, a text that says Levi teaches Torah to the tribes of Israel is quite different from one that boldly claims that Levi teaches G-d. On the next line, when intending to write “they shall place,” the artist mistakenly forms a mem like a tet, which considerably alters the meaning, and he misforms the last letter of “incense” and writes a kaf instead of a bet in front of the next word.

At this point, Chagall would surely have failed a middle school spelling exam, but he is just getting started. On the following line, he again confuses a mem and a tet, confuses the next letter (which is supposed to be a zayen), and swaps a kaf for both the next bet and the first letter of the next word. On the next line, Chagall’s errors yield, “G-d, bless my service” in the place of his “service” — which means Chagall’s blessing casts Moses as the recipient rather than Levi – and he forgets a vav (the preposition “and”) in front of chalil, burnt offering, and stops the sentence midway cutting out the line about smiting Levi’s enemies.

 

 

Marc Chagall, Issachar

 

 

In the window for Issachar, Chagall turns not to Moses’ blessing in Deuteronomy 33:18, but to Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 49:14. Issachar’s window employs a mostly green palette, with red and blue highlights. The overall composition gives the appearance of a garden, wherein a rooster-like animal, several birds, snakes (perhaps Issachar’s brother Dan, who is described as a “snake upon the path” in Jacob’s blessing), and a donkey reside. Indeed, Jacob’s blessing declares Issachar to be “a donkey, who is weighed down by his burdens. And he saw that it was good to rest, and that the land was nice, and he turned his shoulder to withstand, and he became a slave to bearing.” Evidently depicting the Hebrew properly was too burdensome to Chagall, who again misrepresented a mem as a tet in the word “burdens,” and who confused a mem sofit with a samech in the second line. To his credit, Chagall spells Issachar’s name correctly (phonetically Issasschar), including the silent letter sin, but his other errors in the Issachar window include another confusion of a bet with a kaf.

 

Another of the lithographs included in the show – MOBIA has all 12, including another 100 etchings, lithographs, and oil paintings – is the window of the tribe of Reuven. For this window, Chagall again turned not to Moses’ blessing but to Jacob’s. Jacob’s blessing turned out to be more of a curse: “Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and the first of my might,” he begins in Genesis 49:3. But then the blessing turns to constructive criticism: “excessive dignity and excessive power. As unstable as water, you will not withstand, because you went up on your father’s bed, then you defiled it.”

Chagall’s Reuven window is a deep blue, giving form to Jacob’s depression and disappointment in Reuven’s betrayal. Birds fly overhead, as fish swim below, in the unruly water that was Jacob’s metaphor for his son’s hotheadedness. And sure enough, Chagall manages to misspell Reuven’s name (he writes Reuchen), and to forget a yud in the second word, so instead of Jacob’s statement “Reuven, you are my firstborn,” Chagall’s window declares, “Reuchen, a firstborn you are.”

 

 

Marc Chagall, Reuven

 

 If not for Chagall’s incompetence with the other inscriptions, it would be tempting to applaud the painter for playing around with the text to further show Jacob distancing himself from his firstborn, whom he has passed over in favor of Judah, by saying Reuven is a firstborn, but not the firstborn. But Chagall has lost the right to the benefit of our doubt, especially as he misforms the letter aleph several times in the work. A painter who cannot even write an aleph surely did not get through many pages of the Talmud in school.

 

Being a Hebrew scholar is not a prerequisite to creating great art. Raphael produced fine works without knowing his aleph-bet, and El Greco worked splendidly without attending heder. My hope is not to mock Chagall or to discredit his works for their pseudo-Hebraic letters and poor transcription. In fact, Chagall ought to be applauded for creating such Jewish works, and for overpopulating them with Hebrew letters, the likes of which have hardly been seen since Rembrandt.

But it is also vital to study Chagall carefully and to examine his letters and words under the microscope even if he painted so many rabbis. Rembrandt’s Hebrew was not perfect, and neither is Chagall’s. Chagall’s resume makes a great claim for his being the quintessential Jewish artist, but maybe there ought to be an asterisk cautioning that he slept through Hebrew class.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

Getting The Big Picture

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

        Rabbi Horowitz’s recently released parenting book, Living and Parenting(ArtScroll), can be obtained by visiting www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mailing udi528@aol.com, calling 845-352-7100 x 133, or visiting your local Judaica store.

 

 * * * * * * * * * *

 

As Bnei Yisroel passed through the land of Ya’azer and Gilad in the “Ever HaYarden” (land East of the Jordan River) they noticed that the land was very fertile and quite suitable for grazing animals.
 
The two shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad, who had large flocks of cattle, spoke to Moshe and expressed their desire to settle in Ever HaYarden – even though it was not part of Eretz Yisroel proper.
 
Having led his people through the desert for 40 years with the hope of reaching the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was understandably disappointed that two shevatim relinquished their portion in the Promised Land in exchange for a parcel in Ever HaYarden.
 

Harsh Words

 

Moshe expressed himself rather sharply to the leaders of Reuven and Gad. He asked them why they would weaken the spirit of their brothers by not accompanying them to Eretz Yisroel and going to battle alongside the members of the other Tribes.
 
Moshe reminded them of the terrible damage done by the demoralizing report of the meraglim (spies). He wondered why these two shevatim would risk incurring the wrath of Hashem by demonstrating their willingness to forgo the privileged of entering Eretz Yisroel – a zechus denied to Moshe himself.
 

An Additional Rebuke

 

Moshe also gave them tochachah for their lack of proper priorities. When speaking to Moshe, they stated that they had every intention of supporting the war efforts of the remainder of Klal Yisroel. “We will build pens for our flocks of cattle and cities for our children (Bamidbar 32:16).
 
Moshe admonished them for placing their possessions before their children. He implied that their priorities were misplaced, perhaps as a result of their intense focus on the needs of their flocks.
 
The people of Reuven and Gad accepted Moshe’s rebuke, and recalibrated their priorities. In fact, the next time they discussed their arrangements with Moshe (Bamidbar 32:26), they listed their children and wives before their cattle.
 

An Interesting Observation

 

The Ohr HaChaim notes that the leaders of the shevatim expressed their acceptance of Moshe’s rebuke using two different terms. They said that they would do ” as Moshe instructed us” (Bamidbar 32:25). Two pesukim later, they said that they would join Bnei Yisroel in battle, ” as my master has spoken.”
 
The Ohr HaChaim offers a lengthy explanation as to the reason for the two distinct terms that the people of Reuven and Gad used (see Ohr HaChaim, Bamidbar 32:25 for the full text).
 

A Deeper Level

 

I would like to suggest an additional thought as to the usage of these two terms.

Advice and guidance can be adhered to on two very different levels. The first is to follow what we were instructed to the letter of the law. A much deeper commitment is to truly get the “big picture” of what we are being told. When that happens, we don’t merely do what we are told. We internalize the lessons and change our view of things as a result of the wisdom we attained by listening to the constructive criticism that we were given.
 
The Bnei Reuven and Gad realized that their moral compass became skewed as a result of their newly acquired wealth. They were struck by the fact that they inadvertently mentioned their possessions before their children. Once they internalized the criticism of Moshe, they informed him that they were willing to improve and change the course of their lives.
 
“We will do what you instructed us,” they told Moshe. Much more importantly, they accepted the full meaning and import of their rebbi’s words – and the course of their lives.
 

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.

 

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.
 

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parshaor his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, email udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Getting The Big Picture

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Rabbi Horowitz’s recently released parenting book, Living and Parenting (ArtScroll), can be obtained by visiting www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mailing udi528@aol.com, calling 845-352-7100 x 133, or visiting your local Judaica store.

* * * * * * * * * *

As Bnei Yisroel passed through the land of Ya’azer and Gilad in the “Ever HaYarden” (land East of the Jordan River) they noticed that the land was very fertile and quite suitable for grazing animals.

The two shevatim (tribes) of Reuven and Gad, who had large flocks of cattle, spoke to Moshe and expressed their desire to settle in Ever HaYarden – even though it was not part of Eretz Yisroel proper.

Having led his people through the desert for 40 years with the hope of reaching the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was understandably disappointed that two shevatim relinquished their portion in the Promised Land in exchange for a parcel in Ever HaYarden.

Harsh Words

Moshe expressed himself rather sharply to the leaders of Reuven and Gad. He asked them why they would weaken the spirit of their brothers by not accompanying them to Eretz Yisroel and going to battle alongside the members of the other Tribes.

Moshe reminded them of the terrible damage done by the demoralizing report of the meraglim (spies). He wondered why these two shevatim would risk incurring the wrath of Hashem by demonstrating their willingness to forgo the privileged of entering Eretz Yisroel – a zechus denied to Moshe himself.

An Additional Rebuke

Moshe also gave them tochachah for their lack of proper priorities. When speaking to Moshe, they stated that they had every intention of supporting the war efforts of the remainder of Klal Yisroel. “We will build pens for our flocks of cattle and cities for our children (Bamidbar 32:16).

Moshe admonished them for placing their possessions before their children. He implied that their priorities were misplaced, perhaps as a result of their intense focus on the needs of their flocks.

The people of Reuven and Gad accepted Moshe’s rebuke, and recalibrated their priorities. In fact, the next time they discussed their arrangements with Moshe (Bamidbar 32:26), they listed their children and wives before their cattle.

An Interesting Observation

The Ohr HaChaim notes that the leaders of the shevatim expressed their acceptance of Moshe’s rebuke using two different terms. They said that they would do ” as Moshe instructed us” (Bamidbar 32:25). Two pesukim later, they said that they would join Bnei Yisroel in battle, ” as my master has spoken.”

The Ohr HaChaim offers a lengthy explanation as to the reason for the two distinct terms that the people of Reuven and Gad used (see Ohr HaChaim, Bamidbar 32:25 for the full text).

A Deeper Level

I would like to suggest an additional thought as to the usage of these two terms.

Advice and guidance can be adhered to on two very different levels. The first is to follow what we were instructed to the letter of the law. A much deeper commitment is to truly get the “big picture” of what we are being told. When that happens, we don’t merely do what we are told. We internalize the lessons and change our view of things as a result of the wisdom we attained by listening to the constructive criticism that we were given.

The Bnei Reuven and Gad realized that their moral compass became skewed as a result of their newly acquired wealth. They were struck by the fact that they inadvertently mentioned their possessions before their children. Once they internalized the criticism of Moshe, they informed him that they were willing to improve and change the course of their lives.

“We will do what you instructed us,” they told Moshe. Much more importantly, they accepted the full meaning and import of their rebbi’s words – and the course of their lives.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Project Y.E.S.

To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s Dvar Torah Sefer, Growing With the Parsha or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 4-CD set “What Matters Most” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, email udi528@aol.com, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/04/07

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help agunot, please send your tax-deductible contribution to The Jewish Press Foundation.

Checks must be clearly specified to help agunot. Please make sure to include that information if that is the purpose of your contribution, because this is just one of the many worthwhile causes helped by this foundation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear Rachel,

You’re the first column I turn to every week. Saying that I “enjoy” reading it would be an insensitive remark as the issues you present are truly “crises in our communities.” They also prove that the frum world is still prone to awful situations, albeit pushed under the rug. After reading the letter from Been There, Too (Chronicle 1-26), my heart sank. She summed up the whole divorce situation so accurately and beautifully, especially the part “And the kids are the ones who end up losing out!”

Rachel, I experienced something that I wish for no one to ever experience: My parents divorced when I was in 8th grade (I am the oldest of six). At an age when one’s parents equal the world, I was unfortunately exposed to their “mean and heartless” sides. My siblings and I took part in their tug of war, each parent openly demonstrating their hatred for the other during a drawn out process.

My father gave my mother a Get, but the aftermath is still with us as they continue to play the “blame game.” My mother, who remarried, teams up with her husband to escalate the hatred of my father.

Some typical after-effects in children of divorce: lack of concentration, anger, depression, etc. What about the “later on” in life? I have been in the shidduch parshah for almost three years now and am beginning to worry. This is the part where Been There, Too’s last sentence really hit home. Is it fair to me, an innocent 20-year old, to be overlooked by potential shidduchim because my parents decided to divorce, a situation that was beyond my control? Is it fair to consider me a bad candidate because of what happened to my parents?

This letter is not meant as a sob story for people to discuss at their Shabbos table – it is a wake-up call for those who contemplate divorce and were zoche to become parents of Hashem’s precious child(ren). Please don’t put your kids through what I (and other children of divorce) have gone through and continue to go through, even years later! If you must separate (following all the therapies, vacations and consultations), be sensitive to your children’s needs as “[they] are the ones who end up losing out!”

A young adult of a sad divorce

Dear Sad,

If only your heartbreaking message would penetrate the hearts of those who call themselves parents yet are so self-absorbed in their battles that they fail their own flesh and blood miserably. But let’s focus on reality rather than on wishful thinking.

Divorce is not an uncommon phenomenon in our day. And it is your own midos and personality that define your suitability as a shidduch candidate. Your attitude in life and level of self-assurance are far more revealing than your “broken home” status.

Better than stressing yourself out worrying about being rejected because of your parents’ breakup, have faith that nothing will stand in the way of your pairing with your rightful zivug.

When Shlomo HaMelech’s beautiful and virtuous daughter, the apple of his eye, was approaching the age of maturity, her father – curious to know who would win her hand in marriage – consulted the Urim V’Tumim and searched her mazal.

To his chagrin, he discovered that his smart and sensitive daughter, a descendent of shevet Yehudah, was destined to become the wife of a pauper’s son, a descendent of Dan, the smallest of the shevatim.

The king had a tower built on a lone island, its one entrance bolted and sealed. A skylight served as the tower’s only source of illumination. The king’s daughter was instructed to gather her essentials and prepare to be sequestered in the tower until her father would summon her back to Yerushalayim.

Meals were delivered by select members of the Sanhedrin, drawn up by a pulley through the tower’s only window.

Shlomo HaMelech’s objective was to see Hashem’s plan in action – how He would arrange for the king’s daughter to meet her rightful zivug. She in the meanwhile prayed to G-d daily to bring her bashert to her.

Not far away, the eldest child of an impoverished household could no longer endure his family’s suffering and set out in tattered clothing to seek parnassah. Reuven, blessed with wisdom and good looks, wandered from town to town. Exhausted and hungry by nightfall, he sought shelter among the trees in the forest, wrapping himself against the wind with the pelt of a dead ox.

A large eagle attracted to the scent of the carcass scooped up the pelt along with the sleeping form and flew off – to land on the rooftop of the tower inhabited by Shlomo HaMelech’s daughter. When the eagle began to feast on the animal’s skin, Reuven awoke and the startled eagle took flight.

On her customary morning walk on the roof, the king’s daughter had the surprise of her life. A disheveled young man detailed the events that led him to her. The tower’s lone occupant took pity on her hapless visitor and shared her meals with him.

Neither could exit the tower and she gradually came to admire the young man’s middos and intellect. She asked him if he would marry her, and he agreed. They used her ring, and the kesubah was written with blood drawn from his hand. Sticking their heads out the window to acknowledge Hashem’s omnipresence, they called on Michoel and Gavriel as witnesses – and thus declared themselves husband and wife.

Eventually a member of the Sanhedrin spied the two at the window and notified the king of his astonishing find. Shlomo HaMelech came to verify the “impossible,” joyously reuniting with his beloved daughter. Validating G-d’s wondrous personal mission in pairing his daughter with her zivug, Shlomo HaMelech proclaimed, “Baruch HaMakom she’nosein ishah l’ish.”

Take heart, young lady – He Who enacted the miracle of Krias Yam Suf is the Arranger of all matches.

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 Vayeshev

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

        Why did crime drop dramatically in New York City during the 1990′s? While many factors certainly contributed to the drop, criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling suggested an intriguing explanation that became known as the “broken windows” theory. The essence of their argument is that in rundown neighborhoods, exemplified by the many broken windows in the area, more crimes will be committed. “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes” (The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, New York, Little, Brown and Company. 2000, p.141).
 
         In large cities, problems such as graffiti and panhandling, are examples of “broken windows” in as much as they reflect a loss of control of the streets. Kelling argues (as quoted by Gladwell) “If the neighborhood cannot keep a bothersome panhandler from annoying passersby, the thief may reason, it is even less likely to call the police to identify a potential mugger or to interfere if the mugging actually takes place.”
 
         In the mid 1980′s the New York City Transit Authority hired Kelling as a consultant. Following his advice, the Transit Authority made an all-out effort to clean up graffiti from all trains. Likewise, the head of the Transit Police, William Bratton ordered his officers to vigorously pursue fare jumpers and other relatively minor offenses. Sure enough, crime went down on the subways as a sense of order was restored.
 
         When Mayor Giuliani appointed Bratton Police Commissioner of New York, he expanded his “broken windows” policies to the city at large. By cracking down on small crimes and quality of life issues, order was restored to the city.
 
         Gladwell concludes that a criminal “far from being someone who acts for fundamental, intrinsic reasons and who lives in his own world – is actually someone acutely sensitive to his environment, who is alert to all kinds of cues, and who is prompted to commit crimes based on his perception of the world around him” (p.150).
 
         While it must be pointed out that there are people who argue with this theory and attribute the drop in crime primarily to other factors, keeping the streets clean and orderly has certainly made a difference. Not only did it help bring crime down, it has also helped keep crime down. Clean streets imply order and control, thus discouraging potential criminals from committing crimes. Unfortunately, there will always be crime, and police will need to respond to it. However, by implementing the lessons of the broken windows theory, fewer crimes will be committed.
 
         In this week’s parshah we are introduced to two types of leaders. While Yosef the dreamer is a visionary and proactive leader, Reuven is the ultimate reactive one. That Yosef is a visionary leader is evidenced in his dreams heralding a new future − and not just a future, which is a continuation of the status quo. That he is a proactive leader becomes clear at the beginning of Parshat Mikeitz when he instructs Pharaoh how to manage his economy to best avoid the pain and dangers of the famine. Additionally, Yosef advises Pharaoh how to use the coming crisis to consolidate his own power and strengthen the empire.
 
         Reuven on the other hand exemplifies the reactive leader. Although Reuven never did anything to improve the brothers’ relationship with Yosef, when the relationship hit critical mass, and the brothers were about to murder Yosef, Reuven devised a plan to save Yosef by temporarily placing him in the pit. The unfortunate fact that Reuven’s plans were undermined by circumstance does not detract from Reuven’s good intentions. The Midrash Rabbah (84:15) describes that as a reward for Reuven being the first one to attempt to save Yosef, his tribe merited having the first city of refuge built within its boundaries upon conquering the land of Israel.
 
         After analyzing the Midrash, the connection between the city of refuge and Reuven’s attempt at saving Yosef becomes obvious. Both are responsive measures. The city of refuge offers safety to an accidental murderer after the fact. It does not address the underlying reasons that the killing occurred, namely the cheapening of the value of life. Reuven − who likewise never addressed the underlying cause of Yosef’s brothers’ hatred of him, but rather only attempted to save him after the fact − was rewarded with an institution that served a similar purpose.
 
         Reuven represents the leader who attempts to solve a crisis. Yosef represents the leader, who through visionary leadership, avoids the crisis to begin with. In the real world, both types of leaders are necessary. However, the greater the amount of visionary and proactive leadership there is in an organization, the less need there will be for reactive leadership.
 
         The Gemara, Bava Metziah (85b) relates a dispute between Rav Chanina and Rav Chiya. Rav Chanina argued that his approach to learning Torah was superior because if, G-d forbid, the Torah would be forgotten he would reestablish it. R. Chiya argued that his approach was superior because he would ensure  the Torah would not be forgotten in the first place.
 
         Our national history has called upon the approaches of both Rav Chanina and Rav Chiya. At times Torah learning has had to be reestablished. However, as a people we have ultimately survived because of visionary and proactive leaders such as Rav Chiya, who ensured that the Torah was never fully forgotten.
 

         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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