Mikeitz: A true leader

When most people are asked about a talent they are said to have, they’d usually launch some sort of pitch about the experience they’d had in this area. Especially when the person asking is the most powerful man in the country.
That’s what makes Yosef’s presentation to Pharaoh so remarkable. The man gets dragged from prison to interpret the king’s dreams. This is his moment. If he makes a good impression, he could walk away a free man, maybe even becoming Pharaoh’s official interpreter!
Pharaoh: I hear you interpret dreams
Yosef: G-D interprets all dreams (see Bereishis/Genesis 41:15-16)
Who mentions G-D in a sales pitch or job interview?!
And Pharaoh is so impressed that he hires him on the spot. Not as a dream interpreter, but as second in command over the whole country.
That, says Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz , was how Yosef went from a lowly criminal to high powered ruler in a day. No speeches. No marketing. Just plain 

This post is being written just days after the passing of Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman OBM, one of the great leaders of world Jewry, at 104 years of age. The requests in his will were a reflection of the person he was. He stipulated that the funeral should not take place in front of more than ten men, that the coffin should be as simple as possible, that the orthodox Jewish media not publish any tributes to him, and that people refrain from calling him a ‘tzaddik’. Of course, all the other rabbis instructed everyone to disregard the requests.
He simply had no interest in any honour that he felt he didn’t deserve.

And that is the Torah’s main prerequisite for a leader. Humility.

*Based on the writings of Rabbi Yissochor Frand https://torah.org/torah-portion/ravfrand-5774-miketz/

Vayishlach: Inspired by Lavan

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources.

This week, we learn about Yaakov’s encounter with his brother Eisav, after 22 years spent apart. Yaakov told Eisav that despite having lived with a wicked uncle for 22 years, he had never learnt from his evil ways.

Why did Yaakov tell Eisav that?

Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains in the name of his mentor the Chofetz Chaim, that Yaakov was using that moment to chastise himself. Lavan wasn’t merely cruel; he was zealously cruel. He persevered in his quest to hurt his nephew. It was his life’s purpose. And it made Yaakov ponder his enthuasism for his life’s mission. Was that same passion present in his Service of G-D?

Please do not take this next statement the wrong way:

Great people in our times have commented that we have much to learn from those who blow up train stations and ram cars into pedestrians.

The passion and self sacrifice that our enemies show when destroying innocent lives for their ideology can be emulated and channelled for the good. We could use those same strengths to build the world. when others are passionately murderous and godless, we are passionately kind and G-D fearing.

Let’s learn from Lavan’s ‘bad ways’, and use what we learn in good ways!

 

This Chanukah, you can support a worthy Torah institution AND get at least 8 chances to win £1,000!  Click here to find out more

 

 

Parshas Chayei Sarah: The Satan’s backup plan

 

What was Avrohom feeling after passing the test of the akeida, the sacrifice that (thankfully) wasn’t?
Exhilarated? Relieved, knowing that he didn’t have to sacrifice his son?
No doubt he probably left the mountain on a high. He had passed the test set for him by G-D.

And then he arrives home to find his beloved wife Sarah. Dead.
The Satan had shown her live graphic coverage of Avrohom plunging the knife into her son’s body. As a mother, this was too much for her.
Not exactly a happy ending to the story.

When I last checked, I understood that the Satan’s role was to create obstacles for us to overcome. Murdering old ladies surely wasn’t part of his job description!

The explanation given is beautiful.
The Satan knew the power of what Avrohom was about to do. He tried every trick in the book to stop him. Eventually, the Satan was forced to retreat and let Avraham go on his way.
But the Satan had a plan B. Get Avrohom to regret his good deed, and the merit accrued to him would be destroyed. Knowing that Sarah’s alloyed time was up, the Satan attempted to (half literally) ‘kill two birds with one stone’.
But Avrohom wasn’t fooled. When the Torah speaks about Avrohom’s mourning period, the word בוכה has spelt with a very small letter ו. He disciplined himself to limit his crying to a few days, so that he wouldn’t feel any shame over what he had done. When the world around him used the incident as proof that G-D was some cruel demon, Avraham proclaimed that Sarah’s passing had nothing to do with his sacrifice. Her time in this world was up, and she would have been taken by some other means. He didn’t feel any need to apologise for doing the right thing.

In the Maariv service, we ask G-D to ‘remove the Satan from in front of us and behind us’. Even after doing a mitzvah, the Evil Inclination is able to attack from behind, simply by planting the seeds of self doubt. Society may scorn us or consider us to be backward. But when your actions are right, you have no reason to apologise for them.

 

Parshas Lech Lecha: going to….yourself!

Once upon a time, in an idolatrous town called Charan, there lived a rather inquisitive little boy named Avraham (Abraham). Actually, ‘inquisitive’ is an understatement. He questioned everything. Where the sun got its power from, who made the birds sing, why it snowed in the winter. That didn’t make him very popular in a city of idol worshippers. As he got older, his family grew more and more frustrated with their rebellious son. There were heated arguments with Avraham, with Terach desperately trying to convince Avraham to keep on the straight and narrow. One day, Terach entered his Idol shop, that he took such pride in, to find all the idols in smithereens. One idol was left intact, holding a stick in his hand. He looked at Avraham furiously. “Don’t look at me” Avraham shrugged, “that idol had a fit this morning and smashed all the others.” “You expect me to believe that?!” Terach bellowed. “yup” Avraham replied, “the same way you expect me to believe that he created me and can be worshipped!”*
In short, Avraham was not afraid to go against the grain. and that is why G-D decided to test him by telling him to leave town. Hashem commanded him very specifically. In the Torah, Hashem is quoted as saying not just “lech-go”, but “ lech lecha– go for yourself”. Moreover, He then elaborates, “from your birthplace, from your father’s house”.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the word ‘lech’ is related to ‘chelek’ which has 2 meanings:
a) Portions, or halves, separate from each other
b) Smooth, unable to be connected to other things.

G-D was commanding Avraham to cut himself off completely from the culture and home he was raised in. This was a tough order even for Avraham. Despite everything, he still had an appreciation for his surroundings and his family. G-D was giving him his first major test. To separate himself from everything familiar to him and make his own way in life.

We all need community and family. We are advised by Chazal “not to separate from the community”. Avraham himself made a point of interacting with others around him, via acts of kindness. However, that does not mean being a sheep and following the flock. When the general crowd takes a laisse faire attitude to certain areas, a courageous and principled person will swim against the tide to do what’s right.

The stories of fathers are a sign for the children. Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) modelled courage, the strength to stand apart from the world around us. And in doing so, he showed an example to the whole world of what G-D is about.

That is our responsibility today.

*based on Midrashic sources

Parshat Noach: It’s all in the plans

G-D has His plan for you. And it’s a good one!

Why do good people suffer while bad people prosper?

That’s a question that’s been asked over and over, throughout the history of the world.

It’s even possible that even Noach had voiced this question. The Torah tells us that he had to wait 500 years before having his first child, after watching everyone else in the world have children at the young age of 100.

This was the man who was the only righteous person in his time. The man remained completely cut off from the falsehood and corruption of the world around him. He surely didn’t deserve this!

One couldn’t blame him for asking the question.

But G-D, of course, had a plan.

Giving Noach children at a normal time in his life would have been disastrous at worst and very troublesome at best. Had they grown up to be wicked, they would have reached the age of a ‘bar onshin’, a person liable for Heavenly punishment, long before the flood. Thus, they would have drowned with the rest of that generation. If they would have turned out righteous, Noach would have had several generations of descendants to consider in his ark building plans. Considering how long it would take him to build one ark, he certainly wouldn’t have fancied the headache of building a fleet of them! In His infinite kindness, G-D timed the arrivals of Noach’s kids to take place within 100 years of the flood to prevent either of these outcomes.

If Noach had indeed asked the question, the flood was G-D’s answer to him.

During World War II, the British ‘treated’ some of their German Jewish refugees to a free trip to Australia, along with other ‘enemy aliens’ (many of them were Nazis). The boat was the cheapest they could find, manned by a crew of the lowest criminals in Brixton Jail. One day, the bored crew thought it would be fun to attack their passengers. The poor Jews, who had lost family members to Hitler, now had to watch their only possessions being carelessly tossed into the ocean.

Unbeknownst to them, a German U-Boat in the area had the ship in its sight. Just before the captain gave the order, he noticed what appeared to be suitcases floating in the water. The luggage was retrieved and opened. Lo and behold, out came piles of books in…German! Clearly the British were transporting a group of POWs somewhere.

And thus, the Jewish refugees arrived safely in Australia, escorted by a German U-Boat that had nearly torpedoed it.

Challenging life situations often make no sense to us human mortals. But in Hashem’s unlimited perception, it’s all part of the Grand Plan for us and the world.

 

(Idea heard from Rabbi Yissochor Frand. Based on Rashi, Bereishit/Genesis Ch.6, V.9. Story heard from Rabbi YY Rubinstien.)

Parshat Vezot Habrachah/Simchat Torah/Sukkot: The common denominator is OUR common denominator!

In recent years, we have heard the protestations of different groups, in various forms. ‘Judaism is prejudiced’ they say. And on the surface, they would seem to be right. Some groups of people have more mitzvos than others. There are commandments for women or men only. Certain mitzvos are the domain of the kohanim, the priests. And some commandments can only be done by farmers in Israel. It doesn’t seem fair.

Unless there is a ‘back door’ option, by which one can receive the reward for mitzvos done by other people.

According to the Ktav Sofer, the final Parshah in the Torah, which will be read on Simchat Torah in 2 days’ time (outside of Israel, where Simchat Torah and shemini Atzeret are both celebrated tomorrow) reveals that such an option does exist.

Moshe now gives his final parting blessings to his people before leaving This World. He recalls the willingness and love with which we accepted the Torah all those years before

“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob”

The numerical value of the word Torah is 611, the number of commandments that Moshe gave over (the first two were given by G-D Himself). Looking at the verse, the solution to our problem is clear. “The Torah that Moshe Commanded us” can only be considered a “heritage” and be achieved by every Jew if we are a “congregation”.

When we put aside our differences and care for each other, we all get a share in the reward for each other’s spiritual accomplishments.

In a way, this theme has been a focus for the last week. Our sages tell us that the 4 species taken on Sukkot represent different types of people. There is the Etrog, the lemon-like fruit which has a fragrant smell and taste. The haddasim the myrtle branches, have a smell but no taste. The Aravot, the willow branches, have a taste but lack any scent. Finally, the Lulav, the palm branch, has neither a scent nor taste. They are all taken together in service of Hashem.

As Jews, we are a TEAM. Together, Everyone Accomplishes More.

Shanah Tova

As the year 5777 comes to a close, I thank all of my readers for coming on this journey with me. Researching and writing these ideas inspire me greatly  for that alone it’s worth the time and effort. If these ideas do the same for even one of you, I’m even happier.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, prosperous and growth filled 5778.

See you next year 🙂

Ari