Monday, February 22, 2016

Hineini You Can Count On Me

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The seeds of all future construction campaigns throughout the Jewish millennia were planted in the final parshiyos of Seder Shemos. The roots of the thousands of shuls, yeshivos and mekomos haTorah from Israel to Spain, Egypt, Morocco, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, the United States, Australia, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and everywhere in between are in the parshiyos of these weeks.

The first campaign was for the Mishkon, as we learned last week in Parshas Terumah. Philanthropic Jews contributed more than enough of the supplies required to construct the home for the Shechinah in this world. 

This week, the opening appeal was for shemen zayis zoch; the first drop of oil squeezed from olives, collections of which were used to fuel the menorah. Moshe Rabbeinu is told (27:20) “Ve’atah tetzaveh, you shall command the people to bring donations of virgin olive oil.”

Hashem told Moshe to forcefully command them to bring this donation, using the word “tzav,” because Moshe had pled and cajoled them to offer this donation, since preparing oil as required for the menorah is a cumbersome and time-consuming task. A simple appeal wouldn’t suffice.

A few pesukim later (28:3), Moshe is told, “Ve’atah tedaber el kol chachmei lev asher mileisiv ruach chochmah - You shall speak to the wise of heart whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom,” and discuss with them the obligation to fashion the special clothing the kohanim wore as they performed the avodah in the Mishkon.

In this instance, Hashem didn’t tell Moshe to command the wizened people to tailor the necessary clothing. Rather, He simply directed Moshe to tell them what was needed. This is because when addressing perceptive, insightful people, implicit speech is sufficient. They get it. They immediately perceive the opportunity to contribute and appreciate the role they can play in the house of Hashem. They don’t have to be cajoled and persuaded.

Throughout our long history, any time a need arose, there were two reactions. There were people who had to be forced to participate, prodded and embarrassed into contributing. Then there were those who were smart enough to be generous, kind and giving. When the Moshe Rabbeinu of the generation asked for something, they came forward.

It is thanks to the goodhearted, smart people that we have been able to survive through the ages and thrive in times such as today, when, thankfully, we are blessed with people who understand their role in sustaining others and creating the proper infrastructure for the mikdashos me’at that we merit to have among us.

The theme of recognizing our obligations resonates throughout the parsha.

The reason that Moshe Rabbeinu’s name does not appear in this week’s parsha, though he took a very active role in everything described there, is connected with this theme.

Hashem charged Moshe with leadership when he stopped to gaze at the phenomenon of the burning bush (Shemos 4:14). Instead of seizing the mandate to lead the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim, Moshe hesitated and Hashem became angry with him. The posuk states, “Vayichar af Hashem,” Hashem’s anger burned against Moshe, but the posuk doesn’t expound on the effect of the anger.

Rabi Shimon bar Yochai (Zevochim 102a) suggests that Moshe was in line to receive kehunah as well as malchus. He forfeited the opportunity for kehunah when he objected to Hashem’s request that he lead his enslaved brethren into freedom.

As a result of that “charon af,” divine anger, Moshe lost the kehunah that was to be entrusted to him. His family was replaced by Aharon and his sons to serve as kohanim, whose task was to serve in the Mishkon and create harmony between Hashem and his nation.

The Baal Haturim explains that the Torah was sensitive to Moshe’s feelings and therefore omitted his name from the parsha that details the particulars and measurements of the bigdei kehunah. He was hurt by the loss of the position that required the special clothing prescribed in the parsha. In a show of sympathy and not to cause him more aggravation, his name is not mentioned as these halachos are transmitted.

Tetzaveh reinforces the timeless truth that we are all expected to fulfill a mission. When the orders come our way, we must seize them. Otherwise, we risk losing everything. Moshe was a melech meant to serve as kohein gadol as well. When he demurred, although well-intentioned, he caused charon af to enter the world and his malchus was weakened. The opportunity for serving Hashem via kehunah was taken from him.

There is a well-known medical askan who spends most of his time shuttling between doctors and hospitals, trying to help people. A friend of mine asked him what keeps him going and how he is able to find energy for each new case. “It’s simple,” this tzaddik replied. “I think to myself that if I don’t do it, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will find someone else to do what I do. He has no shortage of soldiers and I don’t want him to find someone else. I want Him to use me.”

That is the lesson taught by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, who espouses the opinion that kol Yisroel bnei melochim heim. Inside every one of us, there is a measure of royalty, malchus. We all have within us the ability to make a difference, to take responsibility and master a mission. We all know what we should be doing. We all know that there are people who desperately need help. Some need a shoulder to cry on and some need a listening ear, a friendly message and brotherly warmth. We can do it. We can be the soldier who performs that task. Or we can shirk the responsibility, make believe we didn’t notice, and be too busy and too involved with ourselves to bother with others. We can either rise to the occasion or slither away. It’s up to us whether we claim the mantle and rise or sink into selfish oblivion.

It can be difficult and time-consuming, but most of the time we can be lifesavers just by showing up. It can be trying and we might get condemned and mocked for doing the right thing, but we must do it anyway. Those who show strength and determination in the face of bullies and bloggers earn eternal blessings and gratitude. Those who are scared away by lesser people are themselves minimized. Those who stand up to scoffers and leitzim are rewarded with the bris of shalom. The ones who seek peace for themselves by apathetically ignoring the evil doers and those who spread vindictiveness, hatred and machlokes in our world are just as guilty as the perpetrators. Rise up and take a stand and you will awaken the malchus within you. Sit on the side and chuckle as you catch up on the latest blogged meshugaas and your internal ben melech shrinks.

Pay attention during krias haTorah this week and you can hear a harbinger of the upcoming season and the defining question of the Megillah: Umi yodeia, who knows, im lo’eis kazos higa’at lamalchus. Esther Hamalkah feared approaching the king to ask him to save her people. Mordechai admonished her, saying, “Who knows if the reason you were put in the position of queen was to save the Jews at this very moment?” (Esther 4:14).

Every one of us has moments when we hear this posuk, when we know that we can really make a difference. Yet, we find excuses and shrug off the responsibility.

If we want to maintain our stature of malchus and don’t want the Ribbono Shel Olam to find another candidate to carry out the job, we have to say, “Hineini, I am ready. Hineini, I know I can do it. Hineini, you can count on me.”

The Baal Shem Tov taught a deep lesson about how every word a Jew hears and every scene he witnesses has relevance to him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be exposed to it.

Rav Yaakov Yosef Polnoye disagreed that actions and words that swirl around a Jew have any connection to him and his avodah, and he told his rebbi as much. “I can’t accept what you are saying,” he said.

The Baal Shem Tov looked at him and said, “Yes, you can, but you don’t want to.”

As Rav Yaakov Yosef was walking home following the discussion, a peasant laborer stopped him. His cart was weighed down with bushels of wheat and was too heavy for the man to move by himself. “Can you help me push this?” he asked.

Rav Yaakov Yosef, who wished to quickly reach his destination, shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” he said.

“Yes, you can,” the laborer retorted, “but you don’t want to.”

Rav Yaakov Yosef stopped in shock. The peasant had echoed the rebbi’s words, reinforcing their truth. Hashgochah protis means that everything we hear has personal significance and meaning. And in his case, the message was about not making excuses.

You can, but you don’t want to.

How often do those words apply to us, if we’re being honest? How many times each day are we faced with situations when we know what’s right, but we sit back, waiting for others to step forward and do the heavy lifting?

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l would recall the hanochas even hapinah of the yeshiva in Kletzk, where he served as a maggid shiur. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, delivered an impassioned droshah about the centrality of Torah and the great merit of hosting a yeshiva. When he finished speaking, gabbaim brought out two huge barrels and placed them on the site where the future yeshiva would be constructed. The townspeople, who a moment ago stood enraptured as Rav Aharon spoke about the yeshiva that would be erected at this site, hurried home. The men came rushing back holding money in their outstretched hands. The women came bearing jewelry and silver. Like their ancestors in the midbar, after the call of Moshe, with tears of joy running down their faces, they threw their valuables into the barrels, ecstatic about the merit to build Torah in their town.

When the barrels were overflowing, the people returned home. But almost as soon as they had left, they returned with shovels. They began to dig, eager to create the hole where the yeshiva would establish its home.

Might that outpouring of love, achrayus and enthusiasm be the secret of Kletzk - and the yeshivos it spawned - and the reason that legacy flourishes so gloriously?

Binyan haMishkon called for a leadership that was different than what substitutes for it today. Too often, leaders are people who deliver rousing speeches from behind a microphone, but never get off the platform and take a shovel in hand to get the job done. A leader must possess the ability to size up the situation and find solutions to problems, rising up to the challenges, confronting them, and surmounting them.

The Jews of Kletzk who emptied their cookie jars and ran with their jewelry and shovels were leaders. They were royalty. They may not have been brilliant speakers or seasoned activists, but they were chachmei lev. They built Torah for eternity.

The media is enjoying the current election cycle, as readers and viewers are sending ratings spiking, closely following an epic struggle for the nominations.

Many see the frontrunner as a buffoon, an outspoken megalomaniac and a money-loving self-promoter. They wonder how it can be that people fall for him and his rants. They don’t get why people are besotted by him. They look on in amazement, as the entire election centers on his ideas. He drives the discussion, he leads the polls, and people are in awe of him. How can it be?

The people are hungry. And angry.

Americans placed their hopes upon a man who promised hope and change. They bought into the media’s narrative that the Democrat candidate was a master communicator who delivered soaring rhetoric and would bring a fresh approach to governing. They have since been let down by his lack of courage and conviction and failing at every juncture in his presidency. He led them to a budget and security precipice and the tough-talking Republicans who promised to keep the country safe and curb Obama’s enthusiasm for big government and deep deficits did nothing to block him as he marched to his own drummer, steadily losing domestic support and international respect. Jobs are evaporating, health care is spiraling out of control, the country’s enemies have been strengthened, and friends have been spurned. The country is weak and in constant danger. Everything costs more than when he became president, and we are worse off as a nation. The Republican leadership allowed it to happen, opting to make backroom deals and contenting themselves with tough talk.

Donald Trump feeds into the rage over being ignored. His success is an indication of just how unrepresented the rank and file feel. They see his flaws. They see his political inexperience, but they consider it an asset. They see him as a man who has accomplished much in his business life and think he will bring fewer excuses, less double-talk, and more action.

The lessons of this election, which sometimes appears to be more satire than reality, are very relevant to us in our world as well. People are fed up with speeches that appear to be serious and meaningful, but are essentially soliloquies of fiction. People seeking direction and help are fed ambiguities. They turn to people they thought were paradigms of responsibility, only to be rebuffed and ignored. Mainstream is outstream, while establishments are viewed as redundant vestiges of bygone eras searching for relevancy. People are fed up, they want real leadership, real leaders, real people who relate to them and are honest and forthright.

This week’s parsha teaches us that everyone can be a chacham lev. Everyone can rise to the occasion. We don’t need to be forced. We don’t need to be challenged. We don’t need to be embarrassed to do what is right. We hear the voice of Hashem call out to us as we learn Torah and mussar. We are reminded by our parents and rabbeim of what is important and what is folly. Those lessons are there, waiting for us to accept them and act upon them.

Every time we are presented with an issue, we must say to ourselves, “Umi yodeia im lo’eis kazos higata.” Maybe the reason Hashem blessed you with what you have is so that you can help out this rosh yeshiva or rov who is in need of assistance, or the hardworking professional who can’t make ends meet, or the lonely person you encounter.

Maybe He gave you strength so that you will rip off the veil from a sheker that ensnares people and causes rifts. Maybe you should use your charm and ability to make sales to raise money for good causes. Maybe your thick skin was given to you so that you can fight destructive people and their agendas without letting their attacks affect you.

Most of us know that we could be doing so much more, but good thoughts are not enough. Remember the Mishkon, remember the bigdei kehunah, remember the peasant at the side of the road. Know that you can, and that you must want to.


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