Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Honest Emunah and Bitachon

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Ve’eileh hamishpatim asher tosim lifneihem.” Rashi explains that just as the laws which appeared in the previous parsha were delivered to the Jewish people at Har Sinai, so too, the laws relating to financial matters were presented lifnaihem, before the Jewish people at Har Sinai.

The Chiddushei HaRim elaborates further. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only the laws that defy human comprehension are Divine, while those that fall into the category of common sense –such as those governing financial interactions—were devised by man.

The laws demanding scrupulous honesty were given by the Creator to form the fabric of our daily life. Reduced to its core, the philosophy behind why we must lead honest, upright lives is simply that Hashem commanded us to do so, not because a healthy society depends on honest interpersonal dealings. This conviction must guide our observance of the laws pertaining to financial integrity.

If laws governing our behavior with our fellow man fluctuated according to an individual’s or society’s preferences, the entire moral and legal tapestry would unravel. As we have seen countless times in history, unscrupulous leaders justify their lawless behavior with one corrupt rationale after another, dragging society down with their regime. Dishonest people ensnare others in their traps and cause much financial loss, ruin and pain. Good people become tainted as they begin using elements of subterfuge to advance their ambitions and goals.

If the law is not Divine and immutable, it is open to being manipulated at will. As the posuk warns, “Ki hashochad ye’aveir eini chachomim.” Bribery blinds. There is no greater temptation to cut corners with the law than the allure of quick financial gain. Jealousy of another’s financial success is one of the most powerful—and destructive—motivators for dishonesty. Were it left to man to act ethically according to his own perceptions of what is proper, there would be plenty of room for him to inject his own corrupt assumptions into his dealings with his fellow men.

When ethics and morality are viewed as holy as kashrus, kedushah and taharah, however, the urge to wheel and deal and to legitimize that behavior is curbed.

A Closed Book; Timeless, Unchanging

Torah is not open to human interpretation or change. As the repository of the Creator’s wisdom, it is essentially a closed, unfathomable book. It is timeless and unchanging. Stealing is stealing, in every age, in every corner of the world. Lying and engaging in subterfuge to gain an advantage, even over a dishonest person, is an aveirah and inexcusable, no matter how strong the rationale to engage in the activity.

Just as an ehrliche Yid understands that there is no way to make kosher an animal which isn’t properly shechted, he knows, too, that he may not benefit from money that isn’t honestly earned. An ehrliche Yid isn’t tempted by the seductions of a life of luxury. He is repulsed by improper gains. They have no appeal to him.

Man-made laws are subject to human limitations and to the spirits of the times of the times of the people who formulated the laws. Much the same as we look at photographs of people from five years ago and mock their choice of eyewear and can’t imagine why anyone would wear such glasses, so too, in but a few years, we will wonder why anyone wore dark, round, plastic frames. They will seem so strange. But today, they are in vogue, and style-conscious folk would rather bump into objects as they walk about than not wear them. In a few years, we will mock today’s styles.

Laws reflect the period in which they are written. Systems of jurisprudence subject to human intervention are constantly evolving with the times and are manipulated by changing perspectives. Only the laws of the Torah are eternal, for they were fashioned by an omniscient, omnipotent Creator. The laws were created for the betterment of man and with all his needs in mind. They represent the blueprint for a utopian society, necessary for the functioning of a perfect society and unaffected by whatever perspectives hold sway at any particular time.

Anything devised by man is subject to human bias and thus cannot achieve absolute truth or immortality. Empires rise and fall in a matter of centuries, as the corruption which creeps into the core eventually collapses the entire structure.

Perhaps this is the reason why the parsha opens with the laws of eved ivri. At the time the Torah was given until modern times, a feudal system dominated most societies. People would enslave the weaker and less privileged among them, treating them brutally and inhumanely.

Long before compassion and humanity became universal values, in an era when “might made right,” the Torah revolutionized the world with its mandates of charity, kindness and justice. The laws forcing slave-owners to treat their slaves better than themselves were not bound by the temperament of the times and much more progressive than anything man could have conceived when they were delivered on Har Sinai. They remain so today.

Turning To Secular Courts

One of the ways a Jew demonstrates his belief in the Divine source of the Torah’s laws of jurisprudence is by refusing to turn to secular courts for adjudication of legal issues.

From the parsha’s opening pesukim, Chazal derive important guidelines for how Jews are supposed to resolve their disputes. One who uses secular courts instead of batei dinim commits a chillul Hashem, for through his actions he demonstrates that he doesn’t truly believe that the Torah’s financial laws come from the Creator.

By patronizing secular courts, he puts on display his belief in society’s ideas of what is fair -ideas dictated by human reasoning which are flawed, arbitrary and tragically limited.

Truth Must Be Our Benchmark

The posuk states (23:7), “Midvar sheker tirchok - Distance yourselves from falsehood.” The truth must be our benchmark. Fidelity to the truth is what defines us. We are not to compromise the truth in order to protect our positions or prop up our public image. We must do what is correct al pi Torah, without making cheshbonos.

Each generation draws its strength from its forbears who were moser nefesh to transmit the Torah in its entirety to their descendants. While each generation faces its own individual trials and tribulations, the admonition of midvar sheker tirchok, along with every single law in the Torah, is eternally applicable.

There is no justification for lying or dishonesty in any facet of our lives. If we want to be good Jews, we will make no distinction between any of the laws of the Torah in terms of the time, effort and diligence we expend in fulfilling them.

The test of our emunah and bitachon is whether we follow the laws of mishpatim and Choshen Mishpat with the same care that we demonstrate with respect to the other mitzvos handed down at Sinai.

Were All Your Dealings Honest?

One of the questions a Jew is asked by the Bais Din Shel Maalah is whether his financial dealings were honest. Ehrlichkeit in finances is the defining trait of a yorei shomayim. We all know stories about people who forsook fame and fortune because of a breath of impropriety that might have tainted some of the activities required of them.

For people of this towering spiritual caliber, the sole authority and guide in any money-related endeavor is Hilchos Choshen Mishpat. No other considerations enter the picture.

Fear of failure, competition, and the vast amounts of money necessary to get by in our world lead people to abandon the laws of Sinai. It starts with small lies, with minor acts of deception, and from there it snowballs. Self-deception rules the day, as half-truths and white lies launch the downward spiral. Before long, the individual caught in this vicious cycle becomes an unscrupulous scoundrel. Yet, due to the power of rationalization, he still views himself as a pious person, worthy of honor and emulation.

By contrast, a person who knows that Choshen Mishpat is equally a component of shemiras hamitzvos as Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah is someiach bechelko, because he knows that whatever he owns is rightfully his, and can therefore enjoy it. Envy and greed have no power over him, because his driving force is to give his Creator nachas by obeying the Torah’s mandates. He knows Hashem treasures him and values his sacrifices for truth.

One who utilizes chicanery and thievery to advance himself and his interests is denying the rules the Creator built into the universe by which man can progress in life. He is denying that one who leads his life according to the halachos of the Torah will lead a blessed and successful life. By choosing to go down an unscrupulous path he is testifying his denial that one who abides by the Torah will enjoy prosperity and blessing.

Such a person betrays a major deficiency in his spiritual outlook. His actions carry a denial of the fundamental belief that Hashem guides the world and mankind, and allots to each and every individual his respective needs, as we say on Yom Kippur, “Kevakoras ro’eh edro, maavir tzono tachas shivto, kein ta’avir vesispor vesimneh vesifkod nefesh kol chai vesachtoch kitzvah lechol briosecha…”

Honesty is not only the path to a guilt-free, successful and fulfilled life. It is a testament to our devotion to Torah and mitzvos and our emunah and bitachon. Being honest and forthright not only makes us better people and more capable of getting along with others socially and functioning in a civil society. It makes us better Jews.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It’s Time to Take a Stand

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This past Shabbos morning, a deranged man shot a congresswoman and her constituents in Tuscon, Arizona. The media quickly blamed the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh in particular, and conservatives in general. The local sheriff charged with guaranteeing the public safety went on the air and blamed incendiary talk radio for the actions of a lone lunatic.

Liberal media out to demonize the political right aren’t deterred by the facts. No matter that their claims stretch human credulity to the breaking point. They will pounce on every opportunity to advance their agenda - no matter how irrational and absurd their assertions are.

Liberal bloggers and journalists have for days been blaming Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin for something so far removed from them that the connection is ludicrous. That their narrative is totally contrived is obvious to any thinking person.

Yet the stoking of public fury against right-wingers continues. Think about it: an insane person carries out an act of lunacy, and automatically, the knee jerk reaction is that right-wingers are all crazy. They are violent. They are murderers. Their right to speak and run for public office must be stripped from them. They should be banned from public discourse and the marketplace of ideas and opinions.

Tarring The Frum Community With One Brush

A similar campaign to disparage frum Yidden in the religious Jewish media has been underway for some time. Cloaked deceptively in a religious veneer, using Yiddish names and faces, the relentless disparaging of the Torah community by anonymous bloggers, and certain publications, is diluting the power of Torah and halacha among religious Jewry in our society.

Many of the individuals who habitually undermine our community’s values using purported “news reporting” are emboldened by the built-in anonymity of the internet. They prey on the public’s weakest tendencies. These people, if identified, would draw scorn for their outrageous character assaults and gossip-mongering. They would be pitied for how far they have drifted.

Yet, these people, by virtue of their access to the public through a so-called “religious” blog, have the ability to promote their agenda.

The high cost of publishing once restricted people from foisting their misguided agendas upon an unsuspecting public through the printed word. Slick, colorful publications that would entice a broad range of readers are simply very costly. The internet, though, is free. Anyone can post their views on the internet and have the public read them at no charge.

Thus, the purveyors of daily doses of scandal and morbidity are able to draw in a wide circle of unsuspecting readers. A person surfing the internet for interesting tidbits and “hock”, satiates his appetite for shallow entertainment without much effort.

Taking Aim at the Frum Community

Unaware of how they are being manipulated, these surfers easily fall prey to a dangerous and cynical mischaracterization of the frum community. They once rightfully viewed frum people as an upstanding group with a few rotten apples. They knew that you can’t impugn the character of an entire community because of the actions of a few.

But after being exposed to a steady barrage of gossip, depicting one religious person after another as a lawbreaker, one’s attitude naturally becomes poisoned. Malicious speculation regarding the motives of rabbis and other community leaders, as well as entire groups, casting them as hypocritical or irresponsible, compounds the outrage.

On these blogs, religious leaders are consistently vilified. They can do no good. Regardless of what they do, their actions are twisted and portrayed as evil. When that fails, their motives are questioned and they are portrayed as corrupt, willing tools of strongmen.

The people who write, post and comment on the insidious blogs are upset about the way frum Yidden help each other. They are disturbed by the growth of the frum community. It drives them crazy that yeshivos are burgeoning and so many people are learning in kollel. They can’t stand to see so many of us black-hatters. They are jealous of our successes. They can't stand that we only drink cholov Yisroel and are meticulous in our observance of mitzvos. They look to find fault with us as a way to pump up their own self-esteem.

So, instead of improving themselves and raising their own standards, they tar all frum people with one brush, dismissing an entire group as schemers, crooks and molesters, people lacking mentchlichkeit and decency.

A Form of Addiction

Each day, unsuspecting surfers are fed gossip packaged as “news reports” - story after story about how someone wearing a black hat or a shaitel turns out to be a conniving crook. Those who seek to protect the kedushah of their followers are called control freaks. Tzedakos that raise and dispense millions of dollars to the poor are lampooned. People who take principled stands are mocked. The only ones spared are those who contribute nothing to the betterment of Am Yisroel.

Unwary people digest the propaganda without analyzing what they are reading. They perceive themselves as doing nothing more than shopping for news, but, in truth, they are choosing to give an ear to the worst form of gossip, and end up passing on the slander in shul. The worst part is that they may not even realize to what level they have sunk and therefore see no reason to change.

How else could reasonably intelligent, well-meaning people immerse themselves in this vileness?

Their minds seem to be on automatic pilot. They sleepwalk through item after item of half-baked, childish vitriol without realizing what they are reading and the destructive effect it has on their thinking.

It’s time to expose this pernicious trend for what it is and how it is slowly destroying the outlook and hashkafos of many well-intentioned, good-hearted frum Jews.

It’s time to take off the blinders and identify the practice of mindlessly surfing for gossip in the guise of “news” as a form of addiction.

Getting Real

The most effective way of reversing the corrosive effects of this practice is to give oneself a healthy dose of reality in real time. Take a trip to Lakewood one day. Walk through the town. See the people and how they live. Go into a bais medrash and sit down. Hear the symphony of Torah as it is studied by thousands. Listen to the rise and fall of voices probing the texts whose ancient truths are as relevant today as they were centuries ago.

Look into the eyes of yungeleit around the country and see the meaning of happiness. Listen to a Torah discourse and hear a depth of perception of Torah that survived the worst nemeses of the Jewish people.

Stand outside the largest yeshiva in the country at the beginning of seder and observe hundreds upon hundreds heading towards their respective botei medrash, ke’ish echad beleiv echad, to accept the Torah anew and to plumb its depths.

Think of how your grandparents would have felt had they beheld such a sight and had they been able to take comfort in knowing that the Torah they loved would one day flourish again.

Try to imagine what the millions who were swept away in the terrible destruction would say if they could stand alongside you and absorb the scene. If only they could see the world of Torah rebuilt, sanctifying and nurturing Klal Yisroel, who would be able to count their tears of joy?

Our response to those who seek to destroy our way of life must be to reaffirm our sacred values, to learn more Torah, and to learn with more hasmadah and fervency. Our response must be to be kind and considerate to our neighbors, Jew and gentile, and to make a kiddush Hashem by who we are and how we live.

We have to do more to prove that we are upright, upstanding and outstanding. That means rejecting double standards and shortcuts in integrity. We must take pains to be consistent, scrupulously honest, and fair in all our dealings. We must never skirt the law or act in a way which can be misinterpreted to our discredit.

When another Yid is in trouble, we must rally to support him. When we see an injustice, we must do everything in our ability to rectify it. When confronted with cases of abuse, we have to stop the perpetrators immediately. When children aren’t accepted into schools, we must band together and lobby forcefully for the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We should not be tolerating corruption or deviation from our hallowed traditions in any area of public life.

An Unparalleled Way of Life

Our way of life is the best known to man. It is divine. It brings joy and fulfillment to those who follow it. We cannot permit it to be trampled upon. We cannot promote through our patronage of their sites and publications those who make an art form out of ridicule and cynicism.
We should be so disgusted by their trampling what is dear to us that we shouldn’t need anyone to tell us to give them short shrift. If someone publicly trashed our parents, we wouldn’t reward them by patronizing them. Those who ridicule all that we cherish should be treated the same. Not because anyone told us to ignore them, but because we are so revolted by what they are purveying, we choose on our won to boycott them.

People who twist halacha or mesorah should not be given a platform to ply their wares. Media outlets which place authentic, accepted norms of halachic ruling side by side with the drivel of usurpers and reformers should not merit our attention.

Our response to them should be uncompromising. We have to be able to exercise enough self-control to shun their writings. For when Chazal forbade the reading of apikorsus because of the corrosive effect it has upon a person’s psyche and kiyum hamitzvos, they didn’t differentiate between intelligent and theological treatises and writings that are imbecilic and inane.

Lessons from Yesteryear

The Maskilim succeeded in turning away tens of thousands from the path of Torah through the very same type of propaganda invading our community today. They vilified rabbonim such as Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector who dedicated their lives to the betterment of the Jewish people. They portrayed Rav Yitzchok Elchonon and others like him as wild-eyed fanatics controlled by radicals.

In beautiful, poetic rhymes, they mocked rabbonim as caring not a whit about the people’s financial situation. They portrayed rabbonim and roshei yeshiva as being out-of-touch and driven by a desire to deprive the populace of a good life.

Men with beards and the outward appearance of shomrei Torah umitzvos used the written word to foment hatred for traditional Judaism. Motivated by sinas chinom - greed, jealousy and hatred - and with hearts full of malice, they cleverly portrayed themselves as the open-minded heroes battling the close-minded leaders. They painted themselves as the honest fighting the unscrupulous and unethical. They utilized their superior writing talents to ensnare thousands of yeshiva bochurim by promising them a life of blissful fulfillment.

By the time they were unmasked, they had conquered not just souls, but leadership positions and much power. And they accomplished their goals and won converts to their campaign by using the same kind of subterfuge and character assault eating away at our community today. It was the slow drip-drip of nefarious and tainted half-truths that succeeded in softening up the masses.

While we must stand guard to protect ourselves and our families from the vile filth which fills the internet and the general media, that is not enough. Just because something sounds frum and people we know read it doesn’t mean that it has a place in our homes.

Are there problems crying out for solutions in our community? No question. We have to motivate the people of fine character, steeped in Torah and mussar, to rise above the masses and join forces to find common ground and productive solutions. We should empower them to offer constructive criticism. We should support these people and motivate them to work for the klal without fear of being maligned for their actions.

More than anything, we must make it very clear that those whose goal is to fuel divisiveness in our community, those who take aim at our leadership and impugn the character of recognized gedolim, roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, askonim and plain gutteh Yidden, will be exposed and shunned.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Fires, Blizzards and More

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We often hear people remark that “we live in an Olam Hasheker” or that “Olam Hazeh is all fiction.” What does this truly mean?

We all live in Olam Hazeh, yet we don’t perceive our lives to be full of lies. We don’t believe that our very existence is based upon a falsity. We work hard, we learn Torah, and we do mitzvos, endeavoring to be truthful and to spread goodness.

Perhaps what is meant by olam hasheker is that we live in a world built on illusion. This is certainly true of society’s stubborn belief in man’s power to control his destiny. This illusion tends to die hard. Time and again humanity must be shocked anew into the awareness of how helpless man really is.

For example, we need only ponder some recent “natural” disasters that drove home this message: the fire in Israel’s northern Carmel region and last week’s snowstorm in the Northeast. The entire world watched as citizens of the most technologically advanced countries admitted their powerlessness in the face of fire and snow - “natural” forces sent to carry out the Divine plan.

A country that likes to see itself as almost invincible was brought to its knees by a fire it could not extinguish. The inferno was started by two irresponsible teens, who hadn’t even intended to do any damage. They were simply careless and lazy. Before they knew what was happening, however, many people had been killed. Homes, businesses and properties were being incinerated and thousands of acres of forest went up in smoke.

A proud country accustomed to offering aid to suffering nations around the globe was reduced to begging for fire-fighting equipment. It was revealed that the country didn’t even possess one airplane equipped to fight forest fires. Its fire-fighters proved wholly unequipped and inadequate in the face of the rapidly expanding fire.

It became apparent that the only reason Israel hasn’t suffered serious fire damage over the years was because fires of this magnitude had never before broken out. Complacency thus became the nation’s undoing in this “natural” disaster.

Last week, we had the same type of learning experience in the New York area. Tiny flakes of frozen water fell upon this region. Millions of them. We call them snow. We think we are equipped to handle snow; after all, it’s nothing new and has been around for thousands of years.

Cities have salt to melt snow and ice. They have large, heavy trucks with large plows attached in front of them which push the snow to the sides of the street so that cars can pass. People have snow tires on their cars to enable them to gain traction on snowy roads and move from place to place. Other people have heavy four-wheel-drive vehicles that can drive in all types of weather conditions.

All of the above failed to impose order over the chaos in New York City caused by last week’s blizzard. The City That Never Sleeps was put to bed for three days. For reasons unknown and not yet understood, the plows didn’t plow; the trucks didn’t move; four-wheel-drives didn’t drive; cars stood frozen in the middle of the road and buses were immobilized in the middle of thoroughfares.

The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg who, thanks to his money and proven administrative skills, overturned term limits to get himself reelected to a third term, was left flat-footed. Every time he opened his mouth to speak about the progress of the snow-plowing effort, he was caught with another lie and lost even more respect among his constituents.

Not only was he shown to be out of touch with the public’s needs, he was seen as reacting with petulance and resentment when confronted with the public’s demand for competent handling of the emergency. People refused to be resigned to being locked into their homes for days on end, unable to exit their own streets.

In both the inferno in Israel and the blizzard in New York City, people perceived as strong leaders capable of handling emergencies and exercising damage control were shown to be sorely lacking in those skills.

There is nothing novel about snowstorms and fires; in technologically advanced societies they are quickly brought under control. Not this time. The fires refused to be extinguished and the snow foiled all clearing attempts.

Other strange occurrences have recently captured our attention. A lone anarchist using the name WikiLeaks unleashed an avalanche of state secrets, exposing for the world the machinations of presidents, prime ministers, potentates, dictators, ministers and others. The most powerful men and women in the world stood by, unable to stop the outrageous leaking of their secret schemes that left them exposed and mortified.

The United States has stretched its army thin in wars to decimate al-Qaeda. Yet the band of nomadic terrorists is as elusive as ever. The world’s strongest nation has been proved impotent in its efforts to capture the most wanted man in the world since Hitler, as he sits in a primitive cave and plans acts of mass murder.

The leaders of the Western and Arab worlds watch as a lunatic with messianic pretensions presides over Iran, manufacturing nuclear weapons to use in his crusade against Israel and other enemies. Despite strong talk, saber rattling, boycotts, sanctions, and the biggest farce of all - UN resolutions - the civilized world appears utterly powerless to halt what no one denies is a disaster in the making.

What is this all about? What is going on? Why are all the powerful people of the world being exposed as powerless?

We all know people who talk as if the world is about to blow up at any time. Listening to them, you wonder if you should sell everything and run to a faraway desert, stocking up on water and provisions. In all seriousness, their observations are not that far from the truth. An objective observation of the situation in the Mideast can leave one shaking. Iran is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power. Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Eretz Yisroel. Hamas gets stronger by the day. Israel’s economic problems are endemic.

The world today is a very dangerous place and there is no human being or country that can protect us from those who seek our destruction. It’s about time we internalized that stark reality.

We sing Vehi She’amdah once a year on the Seder night, but the rest of the year we tend to forget that “Im Hashem lo yishmor ihr, shov shokad shomer.” It is Hashem Who protects us, today and every day. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security by putting our faith in presidents, prime ministers, seasoned diplomats and other professionals.

Recent world events are meant to impress upon us how little control we have over the events of our lives. The headlines of recent weeks ought to demonstrate to us that none of the leaders strutting about on the world stage has any independent power. All are pawns in the hands of Hashem. Their pretensions to leadership are part of the olam hasheker.

Who is the true leader? The man who cares. The man who feels a responsibility for others. The one who sits huddled in a humble apartment away from the shackles of power, out of the spotlight. The person who is suffused with Torah. The person who has dedicated his life to being an eved Hashem and bows to no one but those who follow the true path.

A person like the 97-year-old Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, who sits in a small dirah in Bnei Brak. As he approaches the age of 100, he is weak and finds it difficult to move about. A grandson who stays with him and his elderly wife, tends to their needs.

My friend, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, related to me that three weeks ago Rav Michel Yehudah awoke in middle of the night and saw that his wife was not in her bed. He got out of bed and walked out of the bedroom into the hallway. There he saw his wife sprawled on the floor.

The grandson who stays with them was roused by his grandfather’s footsteps and came to the hallway. Groggy and disoriented, he watched as Rav Michel Yehudah ran to his room to get a pillow to put under his wife’s head.

The grandson rushed over to him and said, “Sabbah, mah atah oseh? What are you doing?” Rav Michel Yehudah responded that the floor is hard and cold, that he went to get a pillow so his wife would be more comfortable…“Kar lah. Ratziti lehakeil aleha.”

He didn’t scream for his grandson, he didn’t shout to call Hatzollah, he didn’t bend down to ask his wife what happened. His first thought was to ease her pain. And to accomplish that, he ignored his frailty and mustered all his strength to be of assistance to her.

At almost 100 years old, Rav Michel Yehudah is teaching us about shalom bayis, and about caring for others. This is a true leader. He feels the pain of others and does everything he can to lessen it. A leader of this caliber labors far from the seat of power; he dwells instead amongst his brethren, caring for them as a shepherd tends to his flock.

Baalei Mussar expound in great length on the fact that the Avos were shepherds, consumed with the task of tending to their flocks. Moshe Rabbeinu, too, spent his time in Midyan caring for sheep and providing for their needs. Dovid Hamelech was, likewise, a shepherd prior to becoming the king of Israel.

These heroes exemplified devotion to Hashem’s creations and despite the hardship it entailed, made the wellbeing of their charges their foremost concern. This is the crucible in which a true leader attains greatness. Greatness is won through selflessness. It is not magically conferred on people by virtue of their success in seizing the limelight or grabbing the reins of power.

Leadership is reserved for those who display compassion and altruism when no one is there to observe them. Leadership belongs to those who spend their lives as servants of Hashem and grow in His shadow by following the teachings of Torah and mussar.

It is to people who distinguish themselves in this way that we should turn for guidance and direction. It is in their merit and the merit of all the truly good people of Am Yisroel that fires don’t break out all over, that snow gets plowed, that Iran doesn’t fire nuclear weapons, that Hezbollah is restrained, and that al-Qaeda doesn’t strike. It is the merit of the selfless, dedicated, servants of the One Above, that the world doesn’t blow up.

Sometimes we need a wake up call to remind us that we don’t control our destinies; that Hashem is the Master Scriptwriter and He alone runs the world. Instead of allowing the illusions of the olam hasheker to hold us hostage, let us shake off our slavish dependency on impotent leaders. Let us follow the blueprint for salvation by performing more tzedakah and chessed, doing the mitzvos properly with more purity of heart, and bringing more kedusha into our lives.