Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From the Darkness of Exile to the Light of Redemption

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we learn how Rivkah was concerned during her much anticipated pregnancy. Worried, she sought out the men of G-d to explain to her why her unborn child was exhibiting tendencies toward kedushah and tumah. The posuk states that she said, “Lamah zeh anochi,” and went to seek Hashem.

What is it that bothered Rivkah so much that she went to Sheim to find out what Hashem had planned for her?

Perhaps the language of the posuk provides us with a hint. The words “Lamah zeh anochi,” commonly translated as, “If so, what am I doing this for? Why did I pray so hard for children?” can be understood allegorically a bit differently. Rivkah was perturbed, as the Medrash states, by the fact that when she passed the bais medrash of Sheim and Eiver, the baby kicked, and then, when she passed a house of avodah zarah, the baby appeared to try to exit as well.

When she said, “Lamah zeh anochi,” perhaps she was referring to the Aseres Hadibros which her offspring were to receive, which commence with the commandment of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.” She was concerned, for she knew that one who is poseiach al shnei hasei’ifim is not one who can give birth to the Shivtei Kah, the chosen people who will receive the Torah. As the ultimate truth, Torah is not for one who is all things to all people. It is not for one who poses as a holy person when that is advantageous to him, and when he stands to gain more by being pragmatic poses as one who can be unscrupulous and loose with the law.

Rivkah knew that as the child of Yitzchok and grandson of Avrohom, the child she was to give birth to would have to be a leader among men, a standard of virtue and the epitome of goodness and G-dliness in this world. She was worried that this child would be a shameless unprincipled leader, and therefore thought that she would have been better off remaining barren.

This is why she was relieved when she was told that she was to give birth to twins, one righteous and one the embodiment of evil. Though she no doubt would have been happier with two little tzaddikim, she was mollified knowing that one of the two would be a worthy progenitor to Avrohom and Yitzchok.

Not only in her day, but in ours as well, there is a shortage of honest 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 with virtue to carry their flag. They are looking for someone trustworthy whom 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.

America went to elections a few weeks ago and put its fate in the hands of an inexperienced and untested politician because it was taken by his rising oratory which portrayed him as a person with serious leadership potential. People are so desperate for a leader that they ignored much about his past and placed their faith in his preaching for change and hope for the future.

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 in every period. It is not in the heavens or available only in some remote region. It is here and it is 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.

To find answers in a confounding world, we should follow our grandmother Rivkah and seek the word of Hashem in the bais medrash of Sheim V’Eiver. Only those who study the word of Hashem are equipped to guide us in times of disillusionment, confusion and depression. We must seek the true tzaddikim and be able to differentiate between the men of kedushah and those who would be prepared to compromise their honesty in a matter of expedience.

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.

This week, as we enter the month of Kislev, we begin thinking about the story of Chanukah. We realize that the Bnei Chashmonai were neither warriors nor 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 sefer 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.

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. As grandchildren of Yaakov Avinu and Aharon Hakohein, they were not pragmatists manipulated by public opinion. They did not resort to self-promoting press releases or straddling 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 of “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.

In our day, too, there is a kolah delo 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.

The eternal words of Yitzchok Avinu delineating the difference between Yaakov and Eisav are still appropriate. Yaakov’s power is with the lips and mouth, while Eisav’s might is achieved with his hands. Yaakov speaks finely. He offers words of support and chizuk. He is respectful and decorous. Eisav is a boorish ruffian whose heart is full of treachery. When appearing before his father, Eisav presents himself as an upright son concerned with the fine points of the law. When outside of his father’s earshot, he reverts to his murderous true self. Yaakov remains the same gentlemanly ish tom¸ whether his father is there or not. Thus he earns the enduring bracha of Veyiten lecha, which he bequeathed to his children for all time.

As we face financial pressures unprecedented in decades, there is a temptation to act in ways that our grandfather Yaakov wouldn’t exactly be proud of. We are constantly tempted to compromise on our traditions and principles in order to be accepted by others. When those temptations present themselves, we should remember the Chashmonaim and Rivka Imeinu. We should remember her words - “Lamah zeh anochi,” and be able to answer positively that what we are prepared to do and say is in keeping with the commandments of Hashem as epitomized by the Aseres Hadibros which begin with the word anochi.

We will thus be worthy of receiving the blessings of Veyiten lecha and will merit true leadership to guide us as we go mei’afeilah l’or gadol, from the darkness of the exile to the light of the redemption.


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