Ingredients of Jewish Leadership

Ingredients of Jewish Leadership

A good leader needs to have a compass in his head and a bar of steel in his heart. -Robert Townsend

Leadership and the struggles around it are an ongoing theme in the Torah. Whether it’s the leadership of a family or of the nation, the Torah reveals to us, the good, the bad and the ugly of those who seek power and those who ultimately wield power.

One of my favorite phrases in the entire Torah is from the parting words of Moses to his disciple Joshua (and subsequently repeated by God to Joshua). Moses is about to die and Joshua has been appointed to lead the stiff-necked people of Israel into the Promised Land and to conquer the entrenched Canaanite nations. Moses tells him “Chazak Veematz” which can be translated as “be strong and courageous,” or as Rabbi Hirsch translates it “be steadfast and strong.”

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 31:7 explains that the ideal Jewish leadership is predicated on a steadfast commitment to the Torah and a resolute determination to enact the principles of the Torah in our lives. In his own words:

“‘Be steadfast and strong;’ this is interpreted in Berakhoth 32b (Babylonian Talmud) as follows: “Be steadfast in keeping the Torah and strong in good deeds”; remain steadfast in looking to the Torah for an understanding of your tasks, and be strong in overcoming any obstacles to the fulfillment of these tasks. Be steadfast in adhering to your principles and be strong in carrying them out: these are the most important qualities required of a leader.”

The Torah is the rulebook of the Jewish people. In order to provide leadership to the Jewish people one must be not only familiar with the rulebook, but embrace it, internalize it and live it, despite the constant struggle and challenges of performing what it asks of us “with all our hearts and all souls.”

May we each be leaders in our own homes and communities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the candidates of Zehut for their leadership and dedication.

 

Distance versus Effort

Distance versus Effort

We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead. -William James

distant-mountainsThere are goals that appear as mirages in the distance. We say to ourselves that we can never reach them. It’s not even worth the effort. Were we to make a mathematical calculation as to how far we think our efforts can take us, of how much ground we can cover in a limited amount of time, we are likely to give up before we even began.

The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1871) makes a statement that doesn’t conform to the standard laws of physics. He speaks about the study of Torah, that most fundamental and vital of our daily obligations. He explains that if one sees a study goal that is far, perhaps unreachably so, but commences nonetheless, he affects a change on the space-time continuum. Suddenly, the goal is much closer than you ever imagined. The metaphysical intention changes the physical reality. Your goal will be within reach.

However, if we don’t even take the trouble to start, that noble goal will remain infinitely distant, forever beyond our reach, merely for lack of real effort.

May we plan, commence and pursue noble goals, as ambitious as they may be, and may we see them fulfilled rapidly and fully, with great benefit.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Shimon Peres.

Instant Global Cure

Instant Global Cure

To reform a world, to reform a nation, no wise man will undertake; and all but foolish men know, that the only solid, though a far slower reformation, is what each begins and perfects on himself. -Thomas Carlyle

We are drowning in a sea of strife and pain. Wherever we look, whatever we read, we cannot avoid the disrespect, the insensitivity, the cruelty, and the mayhem of one human being to another.

One common reaction is to sigh a breath of resignation. I am too far away. I am too small. I am too insignificant to affect this fight. Another reaction is to complain. To curse the powers that be and all those who stand aside, as evils are committed uncontested.

There is a third, slower path, one that doesn’t necessarily fix the suffering staring us in the face, not completely nor immediately. But it is a step. That path is called repentance.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 30:8 talks about repentance. We must first find what is wrong in us and fix it. If there is disrespect, insensitivity or cruelty in us, we must address it before we can presume to lecture others. However, the Baal Haturim states something surprising. He explains that if we can achieve complete repentance we shall see and experience immediate redemption.

May we strive for full repentance on a personal, familiar, communal and global basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rabbi Asher Weiss, a wise man.

Personal and Group Judgment

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/nitzavim-personal-and-group-judgment/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Nitzavim

Personal and Group Judgment

There is a destiny that makes us brothers, No one goes his way alone; All that we send into the lives of others, Comes back into our own. -Edwin Markham

Jewish prayer consists of both personal pleas and communal orations. The liturgy itself also reflects this duality of seeking the welfare of the individual as well as of the group. The question however, for the High Holidays, is whether this dichotomy continues. Are we judged for our personal faults or are there also some accounting of group sins, and if so, how does that work?

The Netziv on Deuteronomy 29:9 digs into the issue and comes to the following conclusions. We are primarily judged as individuals, and not in comparison to others. We are judged based on our own personal potential, on what we could have achieved and didn’t, on what we could have avoided but instead gave in to temptation. Each person has their own unique scale of accomplishments and that is what God looks at.

However, just as a person has their own particular attributes and potential, groups likewise have attributes and potential and God judges the aggregate of the people that make up particular groups, whether it is a family unit, a company, a school, a synagogue, a community, a city, a country or a people. If groups live up to their potential they are duly rewarded – and if they don’t, then their raison d’être comes into question. Each group has its own unique mission that only they can achieve.

May we take the opportunity of the New Year, not only to evaluate ourselves, but also all the different groups we are a part of, and plan on a year where we live our unique potentials and missions both for ourselves and together with all those who we are connected to.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the groups that I am a part of. I beg forgiveness of you for my errors, shortcomings and faults.

“That could never happen to me”

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/nitzavim-that-could-never-happen-to-me/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Nitzavim

“That could never happen to me”

“A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.” –Demosthenes

There is a macabre curiosity in the suffering of others. The most vivid example is the traffic jams that occur on the opposite lane of a car accident. People slow down, not necessarily to see if they could help, but out of a deep desire to witness the misfortune of the other guy.

We feel a brief pang of empathy for the victims of the tragedy, remind ourselves to perhaps fasten our seatbelt or drive slower or more carefully, and then cruise on at the same speed, saying to ourselves that we would never be so careless or so unfortunate as the person being wheeled into the ambulance.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 29:18 says that man does the same mental calculation upon hearing the curses and punishments that God will bring upon those that don’t follow His commandments. The foolhardy man will bless himself saying “that curse, that punishment, won’t fall upon me.” And he will believe his self-blessing to be true and effective though he may be obliviously careening into the approaching misfortune with his name written all over it.

May we wake up to reality from our self-delusions and get back onto safer and more honest roads.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ana Duschitz on her incredible hosting of the Women’s Weekly shiur of Montevideo. May it continue strongly in the coming year and grow.

 

 

The Worst Curse

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Nitzavim

The Worst Curse

“Memory is the scribe of the soul.” -Aristotle

Judaism ascribes much meaning and power to words. This coming week, as we celebrate the Jewish New Year, there is a tradition at the meal to pronounce blessings for the coming year, as well as curses calling for the destruction of our enemies. Jews have not lacked for enemies or colorful curses to bestow upon them.

[The rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-worst-curse/]

Dynastic Soul-Searching

Dynastic Soul-Searching

For a fourteen year old South American student, the cold and cheerless halls of Yeshiva University High School were often a lonely place. However, there was one prominent face I could always count on for a warm smile and a friendly word: Rabbi Yosef Blau, the mashgiach (counselor) of the Yeshiva.

In the dark, gothic building in Washington Heights, NY, Rabbi Blau’s friendship was a beacon of light.

Many years later, at a lecture, I had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Blau introduce his son Yitzie, a Torah Scholar in his own right, who is also a friend and neighbor of mine.  Rabbi Yosef Blau claimed that Yitzie’s achievements and successes were wholly based on his own hard work and continuous efforts and not as a simple result of his illustrious parentage.

I believe the claim.

In preparation for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana (September 18 & 19 this year), there is a tradition of soul-searching. We stand before God, contemplating our actions, begging for Divine compassion and praying for another chance to do the right thing in the coming year.

One of the prominent themes in the Rosh Hashana liturgy is that we depend on the “merit of our forefathers” (“zechut avot”) in our pleas for mercy.

However, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is not satisfied with this theological crutch. He demands much more of us.

Deuteronomy 30:8-9 declares:

“You shall return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and perform all His commandments that I command you today. Hashem will make you abundant in all your handiwork – in the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your animals, and the fruit of your Land – for good, when Hashem will return to rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your forefathers.”

Based on these verses, Sforno claims that if we repent from our misguided notions and ways (‘tis the season…), if we wholeheartedly embrace God’s path, to the best of our understanding and capabilities, then several things will happen:

  1. Our sins will be forgiven.
  2. Not only will our sins be forgiven, the sins will be considered as merits.
  3. God will be very happy with us and bestow on us great good.
  4. God will bestow on us the greatest good we have ever experienced.
  5. Our place in the world and in the scheme of things will be based on our own efforts and merit and not on that of our forefathers.

I’ve been privileged to know a dynasty where each member is a role model in their own right. May they always continue to be so, and may we always have opportunity to learn from them.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah,

Bentzi

 Dedication

To Rabbi Yitzie (Yitzchak) Blau. A gentleman and a scholar.

Congratulations on the release this week of his first book,”Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: Ethics & Wisdom of the Aggada”. Based on many articles of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading, I’m sure this book will be both uniquely enlightening and highly captivating.

For details visit: http://www.ktav.com/product_info.php?products_id=2319