Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Jewish Observer

The public appetite for fresh news drives the media to produce newsbreaks even when nothing of import has taken place. Stories are embellished and fabricated; individuals who have done nothing newsworthy are suddenly the focus of elaborate attention.

And so, in the absence of hard news, a spotlight has now swung to the upcoming presidential election, with the media attempting to crank out news to feed a headlines-hungry public that is in constant need of entertainment and diversion.

An election pits two or more people with differing views on the issues of the day in a contest for support of the people they represent. The candidates campaign and tout their opinions on matters of concern to the voters.

Lately, the system seems to have changed. Politicians poll the voters and then attempt to tailor their comments according to what the masses want to hear.

The public doesn’t seem to notice that they are dictating the candidate’s platform.

Take, for example, the junior senator from New York, a woman by the name of Hillary Clinton. Anyone who is reasonably informed about national politics knows that she has had her sights set on the presidency for the longest time. Yet, as she campaigned for re-election to the senate a couple months ago, she issued disclaimers saying that she had no interest in the presidency.

She won the senatorial election by a landslide. Now the media suddenly reports—as if this were a startling new development—that Clinton is looking into joining the presidential race. She is holding meetings with various state Democrat officials as she explores her options, they report.

There is nothing new about politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths. Duplicity is one of the hallmarks of being a politician. So why does the public continue to fall for it? We give these individuals sweeping powers based on worthless campaign promises.

In a democracy such as ours, the people get what they deserve. If voters maintained a grasp on the issues, they wouldn’t act like gullible lemmings falling for the latest poll-tested sound bites. If people would have some depth, they would see past the glib, meaningless platitudes and focus on who is really best for them. They would study which party raises taxes as a matter of policy and which seeks to reduce taxes. They would analyze the records of the candidates and determine which espouses positions closer to theirs.

A person like Barak Hussein Obama would never be touted as a viable presidential contender just two years after entering the senate and with no record of accomplishment in any area. In fact, many of the people in political leadership positions would never have attained office if people would actually stop and think before they voted.

But virtual nonentities do score high in the polls and get elected to high positions. People have become very superficial; they hear only what they want to hear and ignore the rest. They are content to swallow half stories and half truths and never bother to understand what is going on around them and around the world. They develop opinions based on snippets of information tainted with preconceptions and bias.

Newspapers that could inform them are brushed aside. When intelligent people offer clarity and insight, their words are largely ignored. The poorly informed prefer to remain that way, criticizing all who attempt to accomplish something worthwhile.

Such kind of thinking plagues the Torah community as well. We have to contend with the Dossons and Aviroms of our day, the wannabe leaders. They are the cause of the length of the golus. They, the baalei lashon hara and leitzonei hador, weaken the ability of the yorshim of Moshe Rabbeinu, and cause our people to have insufficient zechuyos necessary to overcome the many obstacles blocking the geulah.

Leadership in our world should not emanate from media exposure. Leadership should be determined by those whose knowledge and study of Torah is coupled by a heart that cares deeply about fellow Jews and the difficulties which ensconce them. Leadership in our world is achieved by a lifetime of demonstrating fidelity to G-d and His children, the Jewish people.

A Jewish leader examines all that transpires in this world with objective lenses, taking nothing for granted. His antennas are always attuned to identify lessons for his people and indications that portend the arrival of the redeemer. He sees beyond the superficial reading of events to arrive at the deeper wisdom that reveals Hashem’s hand.

This week’s parsha, the first of the Sefer Shemos, offers a portrait of the paradigmatic leader. It describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s first encounter with the Shechina. He was shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep and came across a burning bush. He noticed something different about the bush; the fire continued burning and the bush was not devoured by the fire as one would expect to happen.

Though only a lowly shepherd at that time, Moshe was always alert to what was taking place around him and seeking to learn lessons from it. When he saw the bush continue to burn, he understood it on a deeper level. He saw the fire as the Shechina in exile with the Jews who were in lowly servitude, symbolized by the thorn bush. He noted that the Jews can be tormented but cannot be destroyed, because Hashem is with them.

Moshe Rabbeinu saw an event that transcended nature and turned to analyze it. He took a lesson from the bush that the existence of the Bnei Yisroel is also lemaaleh m’derech hatevah, as they survive in the exile despite the Parohs’ efforts to destroy them.

Thus he was selected as a leader for the Jewish people on the 15th of Nissan, one year prior to the day he would lead the Jews out of subjugation in Mitzrayim.

Yosef Hatzaddik also exhibited the quality of penetrating the surface to discover what was really taking place so that he could understand the deeper wisdom orchestrating events. When his brothers came down to Mitzrayim, they didn’t recognize him, but he recognized them. They weren’t looking for him; he was erased from their memory, and he was a thing of the past. They had sold him and tried to forget about his very existence; they had long forgotten his dreams.

But Yosef never forgot his parents, Yaakov and Rochel. He never stopped wanting to meet his brother Binyomin and get back together with the shevotim. He never gave up on seeing his dream fulfilled and he was therefore gazing at the faces of the people who came down to Mitzrayim looking for food. Consequently, he recognized his brothers - because he was looking for them. They, on the other hand, weren’t looking for him. The furthest thing from their minds was the fantastic possibility that he might have become viceroy of Egypt and they were fulfilling his chalom by bowing down to him.

Rabi Akiva was a lowly, ignorant shepherd, but he noticed water dripping on to a stone. He observed that the soft water had an effect on the hard rock and eventually bored a hole through the stone. He applied the lesson to his own life and said that just as drops of water can break through powerful rock, so too, if he would begin to learn diligently, one word and another word and then another word of Torah would penetrate his mind and heart. He, too, could eventually become a talmid chochom.

Because he probed the deeper truth and applied that truth to his own life, he was able to change his entire destiny and become the great Rabi Akiva, rebbi of Klal Yisroel. Because he wasn’t consumed by superficiality, he was able to plumb the depths of his soul and the essence of this world, and rise to the level of the Jewish nation’s greatest teacher.

The Medrash in Parshas Vayeishev [parsha 85] states that at the time the brothers sold Yosef, the shevotim were occupied with the sale of Yosef, Yosef was overcome with sak and taanis grief at his predicament; Reuvein was occupied with his sak and taanis – repenting; Yaakov was occupied with his sak and taanis - mourning the loss of his beloved son. But Hakadosh Boruch Hu was occupied with creating the light of Moshiach, and thus the posuk says, “Vayehi ba’eis hahi vayeired Yehudah…”

We don’t have the benefit of seeing the entire picture. To any outside observer it looks as if the world is full of tragedy and hovering at the precipice of destruction. The brothers have sold Yosef into an uncertain future. Reuvein mourns, Yosef mourns and Yaakov mourns, but G-d has other plans. A time that to all outward appearances is bleak beyond belief is really a time in which G-d is preparing the light of Moshiach. This is the lesson we learn from Yehuda and Tamar whose union would ultimately produce the much longed for redeemer of the Jews.

We look around us and all we see is desolation and destruction. We see ill winds blowing from Iran, Iraq, Gaza, Yerushalayim, and other portents of danger, yet we must dig deeper. We must have a deeper vision and recognize that if we scratch beneath the surface and occupy ourselves with sak and taanis, allegories for teshuvah, we will merit the revelation of the light of Moshiach for which Hakadosh Boruch Hu is preparing the world.


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