Wednesday, January 18, 2006


In a Congressional hearing room in the United States Senate, an eminently qualified public official is forced to defend himself against unfounded insinuations leveled by people who are clearly his intellectual and ethical inferiors.

Sanctimoniously, they rustle papers and posture in front of cameras, bringing up old and irrelevant stories in an effort to trip him up. The gentleman is forced to sit through the barrage of questions, barely allowed to defend himself against ridiculous charges and fictitious claims.

The questioning is essentially a game. Those who supported Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court before the charade will vote for him, and those who opposed him and attempted in vain to uncover weaknesses, will vote against him.
The outcome is a forgone conclusion, but that doesn’t stop critics from trying to ruin the man’s reputation. It didn’t stop liberal Democratic senators from baiting him and doing everything possible to get him to incriminate himself, and give them ammunition to attack him. They lectured and mocked him with obvious spite. He, in turn, sat there calmly and self assuredly, answering their questions.

The treatment was so mean-spirited that Alito’s wife, who was sitting behind him, broke down in tears and had to leave the room.

The venom must have come as a shock to her. But it didn’t shock anyone with any experience in the public domain. It didn’t shock anyone accustomed to watching spiteful people try to shoot down anyone who is smarter, more talented or more successful. The fact that these well-meaning people are working for the public good offers no protection against the barbs and assaults of detractors.

That is the way it is in the cold, brutal world out there, but that does not mean it should be that way in our world. We ought to respect people who dedicate their lives to the public welfare. We should know better than to sit back and allow good people to be vilified.

We’ve seen it countless times; it’s nothing new. Since the beginning of time, unscrupulous people have shown they have no compunctions about trampling on other people. We, who would never want to be grouped with people of this ilk, should never conduct ourselves as they do.

Echoes of this nefarious behavior come from this week’s parsha, where we learn of the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu and how he came to be raised in the house of Paroh.
The posuk (Shemos 2:11) relates, that as Moshe grew to adulthood, he left the house of Paroh and observed first-hand his brothers’ suffering. The first day he ventured forth, he saw a Mitzri beating a Jew. He looked around and, assuming no one was watching, killed the Mitzri and hid him in the sand.

On the second day, Moshe saw two Jews, Doson and Avirom, fighting. Addressing the one with a raised fist as “Rasha,” he asked him why he was striking his friend. The man retorted, “Who appointed you a ruler and judge over us? Are you going to kill me the way you killed the Mitzri?”

The Torah relates that Moshe became frightened and uttered the immortal words, “Achein noda hadavar, indeed the matter is known.” The posuk’s intent seems to be that Moshe feared that it was known that he had killed the Mitzri. In fact, the next posuk relates that Paroh heard about “this matter” and Moshe was forced to flee for his life.

The Medrash offers a different explanation: “Achein noda hadavar - Now I understand the matter that was troubling me.” Moshe was wondering why the Jewish people suffer more than the other nations of the earth, but now that he witnessed their cruel, vindictive behavior with one another, he understood.

Perhaps we can take that idea a step further. Moshe was brought up in the regal splendor of Paroh’s palace. At the age of twenty, after being appointed by Paroh to a position of authority, he left the palace to identify with the suffering of his people. He was overcome at the sight of their anguish.

When he came across a Mitzri beating a Jew, he struck him down. The sight of a Jew being persecuted, the sight of evil and injustice being perpetrated, enraged him. He couldn’t stand passively by.

As a member of Paroh’s royal household, he had never seen the Jewish people close up and was baffled by their enslavement and suffering. What was the reason their inhumane treatment was allowed to continue? Why did they not rise up to defend themselves from their evil masters?

The incident with Doson and Avirom, who mocked him when he appealed to them to cease fighting, answered his questions.

He had killed the Mitzri with the Sheim Hameforash; how could they not have seen that? And yet, despite witnessing a supernatural act, they were unfazed. They saw that someone considered Jewish life sacred; they saw that someone actually cared about the way the Jews were being treated and put his life in jeopardy to defend them. Yet, their only reaction was to mock him.

Instead of thanking him for his heroic act, they vilified him; instead of raising their hands to G-d in gratitude that someone was fearless enough to defy the Mitzri authorities in order to come to their defense, they raised their hands to strike each other.

Achein noda hadavar. Moshe now understood why no leader had emerged. The would-be leaders had their hands full contending with the Mitzrim; they did not possess the power to intercede for their people when individuals like Doson and Avirom stood ready to sabotage, slander and mock them for their efforts.

Our approach should be diametrically opposite from these rabble-rousers. We should seek out ways to give chizuk to those who do so much for the klal, yet suffer the humiliation of public service.

If we want good people to rise to positions of responsibility, if we want talented people with high standards to exercise leadership, we have to be worthy of that leadership. If we want people to whom we can turn when we need direction, we have to make sure not to obstruct them when they rise to prominence.

If we want to hasten the redemption, we have to be supportive of young people who display communal responsibility and concern. We must encourage people to get involved in helping to build organizations and mosdos, and who seek to resolve community-wide dilemmas that affect each and every one of us.

We have enough Dosons and Aviroms. We see variations of these shady characters in all walks of life. We recognize them by the tone of their mockery, by their readiness to pounce on people for the slightest error.

We recognize them by their petty vindictiveness, by their inability to get along with people, by their opposition to authority. They are conspicuous for their negativism and lack of ahavas Yisroel.

Instead of throwing our lot in with the cynical scoffers, let us throw our support behind individuals whose intentions to benefit the klal are pure and wholehearted. Let us give these people the benefit of our backing, our experience, our connections and resources. Let us assist them so that they can realize their goals and ambitions for us all.


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