Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Leadership and the Menorah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Annapolis has everyone confounded. How can it be that Israel’s leaders - Olmert, Livni, Barak and Eli Yishai - are so profoundly lacking in intelligence? How can it be that experience has taught Bush and Rice nothing? How is it possible that all these players engaged in such a huge charade are getting away with it? That no one with clout has the guts to stand up and speak the truth?

The absurdity and outrageousness of last week’s events cry out to the Heavens. Yet the self-serving politicians orchestrating those events march on toward disaster.

A summit is held to promote peace, yet Israel’s representative is compelled to enter through the building’s service entrance because the Arabs refused to enter through the same door that a Jew went through. But this infamy is ignored as all present engage in the delusional fantasy that a symbolic surrender on Israel’s part will usher in peace.

Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni broke every promise they made to the voters before going to Annapolis. They vowed that the precondition for negotiation with the Palestinians would be the latter’s acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and their refusal to have contact with Hamas. Those were the “red lines” that would not be crossed.

What actually happened? The day after Annapolis, PA Chairman Abbas and the PA Prime Minister, Fayad, both publicly avowed that they would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas now says that he is prepared to talk to Hamas. Could there be a bigger farce?

How did Israel ever get to this point to begin with? How does a prime minister with a popularity hovering around zero have the audacity to enter into such negotiations over the future of his country when he knows he doesn’t have the support of his countrymen? How do his coalition partners thumb their noses at the will of the people as they prop up the corrupt and inept manipulator, knowing they will get away with it?

Israel continues to make concessions for peace, while the Palestinians keep on demanding more. They don’t only want a couple of dilapidated neighborhoods in Yerushalayim; they want the whole thing, including the Kosel Hamarovi. They want the entire West Bank and Gaza. In fact, they want Israel to vanish, as illustrated by the map they published after Annapolis, which was somehow missing the hated Jewish country.

The Kadima party pulled Israel out of Gaza and now it is a terror state; there are no indications that the West Bank experience would be any different.

And how is it that President Bush behaves as if totally devoid of intelligence and judgment? Has he not studied the history of former presidents who tried to enhance their legacies by dabbling in Mideast peace? How can it be that the president who declared war on Islamic terror is the same one seeking to establish a state that would surely turn into the Middle East’s newest launching pad for terror?

To be sure, his enemies on the left would have liked for him to stoop even lower. The day following Annapolis, the New York Times criticized the president for trying to bring the sides together. “Mr. Bush could have said Jerusalem would serve as the capitol of two states. He did not, “ the Times complained.

“He could have said there would be compensation and resettlement for the Palestinian refugees. He did not do that either.

“Middle East specialists are saying that if Ms. Rice is to succeed in actually brokering a peace deal, she will have to get Mr. Bush to push Israel to agree to all of that and much more in the give and take of the haggling to come.”

But Rice might actually be spared the job of twisting the President’s arm. The Times reports that “Some Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will actually need public American pressure to silence critics at home who will undoubtedly complain that he is giving away the store. ‘She hasn’t even pushed them as far as they want to be pushed,’ said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator.

“'A smart American administration understands that this is very difficult for an Israeli prime minister,’ Mr. Levy said, ‘and sometimes [Israeli leaders] need to be able to say, ‘Washington is holding my feet to the fire on this.’”

Edward Djerejian, who was ambassador to Syria under the first President Bush and then ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton, predicted the same scenario. “The Israelis are going to have to make painful compromises and it’s much easier for them to go to their domestic constituencies and say, ‘Look, this is not my preferred option, but the president of the United States is asking me to do this.’”

These quotes lift the veil on the cynical game of politics to which the Israeli people are being held hostage by their own leaders. Each leader blames the other. Everyone knows it’s a farce; everyone involved is intelligent enough to realize that they are engaging in an exercise in futility. No one is really deluding themselves into thinking that after 60 years of unremitting lies and terror, the Arab mentality has changed.

No one thinks that by pulling out of the West Bank, Israel will earn the love of the nations besieging them as a wolf surrounds its prey. But they carry out these maneuvers nonetheless, because it serves the purpose of the moment. Most important of all, these cynical, self-promoting statesmen know that they will not have to suffer any consequences for betraying their country. They will simply shift the blame onto the other guy.

So in Israel, Olmert blames it on Bush and Rice. Barak blames it on Olmert. Livni blames it on Abbas. Netanyahu blames it on Lieberman and Lieberman blames it on Shas. Shas says, “What are you talking about? We’re number one for Yerushalayim. But no one is talking about dividing Yerushalayim.”

And they think you are stupid enough to believe it. The Israeli people are punch drunk from having had so many elected leaders lie to them and go back on their promises that they can’t get behind any one candidate who has the power to unseat Olmert. And so the music plays on as the security and future of a nascent country is bargained away.

There is a shortage of leadership in our world. Wherever you go, in every society, in every country, in every industry, people are bewildered and lost, seeking leadership in a drifting world. People look for someone to carry their flag, they seek out someone they can rally around, and they search desperately for someone who can put their feelings into words and give voice to their concerns. Yet, true leadership - leaders who act in the best interests of the people they serve - is almost impossible to find.

Chazal teach in Pirkei Avos, “Bemakom she’ein ish, hishtadeil lihiyos ish.” In a place where there are no men, and no leaders, you must work on yourself so that you, yourself, can be a leader. Every person has within themselves the ability to excel and lead. Every one of us who are thirsting for leaders with whom we can identify could become that leader, if only we would believe in ourselves and set our minds to it.

Torah is not some esoteric book available only to the rich and privileged. Torah is for everyone, at every time and period. It is not in the heavens or available only in some remote region. It is here and now and readily available to anyone who dedicates his life to its study and acquisition.

As we grow in Torah, we grow in our ability to lead and provide answers for an impoverished public. As we sit by the feet of our teachers and imbibe the lessons which were inculcated in them by their rabbeim, our minds are opened, our souls are purified and our sensitivities are awakened to the needs and aspirations of our people.

Reading the reports of the actions of government leaders will leave us groping for answers. Trying to comprehend current events through the prism of a newspaper will leave us with more questions than we started with. It is only with the Torah’s perspective that we can appreciate what is going on around us and find direction and purpose in our world.

The Bnei Chashmonai were not warriors and were not leaders. They were people in whose hearts burned an insatiable desire to rid the world of evil. As we recite in the immortal words of Al Hanisim, they were few and they were weak. But they were righteous. And they had the courage of their convictions. They refused to subjugate themselves to the profane practices and worldview of the Hellenists.

Under the leadership of Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol, this handful of die-hard tzaddikim and oskei Torah rose up to provide leadership for a dejected, subjugated people. Hashem took note of their courage and self-sacrifice and empowered them with the ability to rally the Bnei Yisroel and to emerge victorious over a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.

The true Jewish leader is not the one who cheats his way up the political ladder. The true leader is not the one who repeatedly lies to his people and engages in subterfuges in a desperate bid to maintain his hold on power. He doesn’t just pontificate and blame the consequences of his ineptitude on someone else. The true Jewish leader doesn’t hold on desperately to an outdated and disproved ideology. He is not crippled by arrogance and ignorance.

The true Jewish leader sits bent over a book in a small nondescript room studying the word of G-d. He imparts his knowledge to others with love and devotion. He parcels out his advice and guidance with humility and subservience to G-d. People flock to him and follow his every word not because they are forced to, but because they want to. There are no enforcers and party chairmen to keep everyone in line. Good Jews have an inbred sense of where to go for leadership and whom to follow.

Every night, as we light the menorah, we are to remember this lesson. With its roots branching out from the avodah of Aharon Hakohein in the Mishkan, the lighting of the menorah is to remind us how Aharon and his family ascended to the kehunah.

At the time of the sin of the eigel, Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, “Mi laHashem eilay - Let all the men of G-d appear before me.” The tribe of Levi rallied to the side of Moshe.

My grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, was privileged to learn for seven years in the yeshiva of the great kohein and descendent of Aharon Hakohein, the Chofetz Chaim. My grandfather was a Levi, and he told me that his rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim, explained to him the reason he was a Levi.

“It is because when Moshe Rabbeinu called out, ‘Mi laHashem eilay,’ your grandfather [and mine] responded positively. Remember that when the call ‘Mi laHashem eilay’ rings out in our day, make sure to give the right answer,” the Chofetz Chaim urged.

Aharon and his tribe did not take a poll to see which side would win. They didn’t take a head count to try to determine which side would emerge victorious from the battle. Moshe needed them and they rose to the occasion. Hashem caused them to win and beat back the idolaters and thus the plague that threatened the Jewish people was squelched.

That same fire for Hashem and His Torah burned in the hearts of his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim, and thanks to them the forces of evil were defeated. They, too, didn’t check to see which way the wind was blowing before taking action. They were not manipulated by public opinion. They did not resort to self-promoting press releases or straddle the fence blowing hot air in the face of the campaign to separate the Jewish people from the Torah.

As did Aharon Hakohein and his tribe, when they heard the call “Mi laHashem eilay,” they answered without hesitation. They found the strength within their souls to battle evil and thus caused the spirit of G-d to return to the Bais Hamikdosh.

Therefore, we celebrate the miraculous military victory of Chanukah by lighting the menorah - the same menorah that Aharon Hakohein lit, the same menorah that Matisyohu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol lit, and the same menorah that the Chofetz Chaim lit.

It is also the same menorah that my grandfather and your grandfather lit. It is the same menorah kindled by all the valiant Jews throughout history who stood up to those seeking their destruction, all those who answered the call of “Mi laHashem eilay” throughout the generations.

In our day, too, there is a kolah d’lo posik, a silent call emanating from Sinai and from the Har Habayis and from every bais medrash around the world. “Mi laHashem eilay,” it proclaims. Those of us who light the menorah hear it and answer, “Hininee shlucheini - You can count on me; I will make myself worthy of this mission.” We light the menorah and remind ourselves that we are up to the sacred task.


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