By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The weekly news cycle, which includes the events and stories that recently transpired, captivates the country and molds people’s opinions. It informs, educates, saddens and gladdens those who follow the fast-moving train. But for those who are sensitive enough to perceive that the rapid flow of news contains relevant messages with lessons for personal growth, the daily flow can also inspire.
Though the election isn’t until November 2020, the country is already in the grips of an election season. The media can’t wait to unseat the current president and is doing all it can to convince you not to vote for him. Democrats are ripping themselves apart debating over whether to impeach the president and kill him with one strong blow or to investigate every aspect of his private and public business and deliver a death of one thousand cuts.
The truth is not the motivator. It is the campaign’s agenda that sets the narrative. Arrogance and blind ambition are the prime motivators. A lust for power radiates from the faces of politicians. They lie and navigate around the news, seeking an advantage.
With the contemporary means of communication, politicians have to master only one medium to triumph: the art of rhetoric. Everything is skin deep, at most. There is no attempt to really understand an issue and analyze solutions. The only thing that seems to matter in this election cycle is a great sound bite, a tweet that can go viral, or a great line for use in a debate.
It’s all about talk. It’s not about explanations or answers, firm positions or the truth.
Accomplishment, decency, experience and reliability matter little. It’s about style and spin. The people are as superficial as their leaders and don’t seem to care about much. The economy, terrorism, jobs, a world in crisis – they are all simply talking points not to be taken seriously.
We must ensure that the state of the world at large is not reflected in our camp as well.
We need to banish those who rise to positions of influence through rhetoric and sound bites, and strengthen those with real ideas and genuine accomplishments. Style is important, but leadership must be about substance. We have to be intelligent enough to judge people by what they do, not by what they say they will do.
Those committed to a life of Torah, who probe the depth of pesukim and dissect the words of the Talmud, Rishonim, Acharonim and baalei machshovah, become better people, with depth and greatness. Talmidei chachomim are not about empty words and cute sound bites. They are real.
In Parshas Beha’aloscha, which is read this week in the golah, the posuk (11:1) describes the sin of the misonenim: “Vayehi ha’am kemisonenim ra be’einei Hashem – The people were misonenim and Hashem was angered and caused a fire to burn that devoured the edges of the camp.”
Rashi explains that the word misonenim means excuse. The people were looking for an excuse to depart from the way of Hashem. They complained that they were traveling for three days straight and it was too difficult for them. “Vayichar apo,” Hashem became angry, because the trek was for their ultimate good, so that they would enter Eretz Yisroel quicker.
The people cried out to Moshe, who davened on their behalf to Hashem, and the fire sank into the ground.
Immediately thereafter, the posuk relates that the asafsuf (the eirev rav – Rashi), followed by the Bnei Yisroel, began bemoaning the lack of meat for them to eat. Rashi points out that they had left Mitzrayim with plenty of sheep and cattle, but they were once again searching for something to complain about, so the facts didn’t matter.
They complained about the monn that fell every day to sustain them in the desert and spoke about the free fish the Mitzriyim fed them when they were slaves. Instead of being thankful for their freedom and bounty, they once again grumbled.
Shortly thereafter, the Torah tells of Eldod and Meidod, who prophesized in their tent regarding Moshe. A young man heard them and became upset with what they were saying. He ran to Moshe to inform on them. Upon hearing their prophecy, Yehoshua advised Moshe to lock them up and force them to desist from prophesying. Moshe refused, admonishing his assistant not to be zealous on his behalf. He declared, “If only the whole nation could be prophets!”
Moshe learned the lesson of the misonenim and the asafsuf, and although he couldn’t have been happy with the subject of Eldod’s and Meidod’s prophecy, he wouldn’t lock them up. He only wished that more of the Jewish people would be worthy of prophecy. He saw the entirety of the situation and prayed for more holiness in his camp, ignoring any personal, selfish desires.
The parsha concludes with the story of Miriam and Aharon speaking disparagingly of Moshe. Hashem admonished them, “Lomah lo yireisem ledaber b’avdi b’Moshe? Why did you seek to find fault in My eved, Moshe? You know that he is the leader of the people. You know that I speak to him regularly. You know of his greatness. Yet, instead of praising him, you mock him.”
They were punished for concentrating on a perceived fault instead of examining the totality of the person.
The parsha opens with the commandment to Aharon to light the neiros of the menorah in the Mishkon. The lights were not for Hashem’s benefit, but rather for ours. The ability to achieve perfection in middos and to be people of substance, who examine an entire issue and seek to separate the bad from the good and support the good, is caused by the light of the neiros of the menorah. Those who are worthy see with that light, ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr, living lives of greatness.
That is the depth of the promise made to Aharon when he was upset that he had no role in the chanukas hanesi’im. Hashem told him, “Shelcha gedolah mishelohem,” meaning that his act of lighting the menorah will live on for eternity, while that of the nesi’im would not (see Ramban ad loc.).
The light that Aharon kindled in the Mishkon is prevalent in our day as well. Those who see the light and benefit from it can follow in the path of Aharon, who was an “oheiv shalom verodeif shalom,” loving people and bringing about peace amongst them and between them and Hashem.
Aharon himself would clean out the Menorah from the residue of the previous night and light the menorah daily. He didn’t delegate the work to other people. Because it was important, he did it himself.
We can now understand in a deeper way what Hashem told him: “Shelcha gedolah mishelohem.” The meaning was that Aharon’s service in the Mishkon was more precious to Hashem, because he performed the melocha himself, not through intermediaries.
We must emulate the example set by Aharon. When a job needs to be done, we should do it ourselves. Nothing should be beneath our dignity when it comes to mitzvos and the klal.
In Kelm, the aron kodesh was raised and it was necessary to use a stool to access it. Before each pesicha, it was necessary to carry it from the back, where it was kept, to the front of the bais medrash. This was done to inculcate the middah of anivus. Nobody should feel that because of their yichus or great prowess in study, they are absolved from publicly performing necessary menial tasks. All are equal in the obligation of working for Torah and its causes.
The Chazon Ish once called two students of the Ponovezh Yeshiva and told them that it was time for a revolution. “From what I see from speaking to the boys who have been coming to yeshiva recently, though they are bright, they are getting lost. They quickly give up and feel very lonely.
“You have to do something to get the older bochurim to find time to be mekarev these bochurim before they are lost.”
The two boys responded that the older boys are on a much higher level of learning and it is difficult for them to study with boys who just entered the yeshiva and are at a much lower level. Besides, they are so engrossed in their learning that they would not be able to find time for the younger boys.
The Chazon Ish responded, “If you speak to them and that is what they tell you, ask them why, if they are so busy and don’t have time for this, they put on tefillin every day. The mitzvah of spending time with these bochurim every day is no less a mitzvah than the obligation to put on tefillin.”
Helping other people, working with others, and being a source of support and encouragement is a mitzvah like any other and is incumbent upon all of us.
This week, Torah Umesorah celebrated its 75th anniversary of bringing Torah to children. Its goals have been accomplished because the greatest gedolim worked alongside dedicated mechanchim and askonim to see that American Jewry would not be lost in a sea of assimilation and am ha’aratzus.
We have to work hard in our communities to ensure that the battles we fight and the causes we champion aren’t just noise brought on by catchy words and superficialities. We have to be honest and ensure that our motivator is neither jealousy nor pettiness, nor a selfish desire to win or see our team come out on top. If we work lesheim Shomayim, following the guidelines of Torah, we can accomplish so much, defeating tumah and strengthening the causes of kedusha.
Too often, hate and anger, fueled by rhetoric, pollute the atmosphere. Everything becomes a cause worth fighting over and people feel compelled to take sides, causing division when the only way to accomplish anything is through unity.
Before we squabble, we should look beyond the surface to see what the words thrown around really express and the truth they conceal. We have to be honest and self-aware. Before we take a position, we have to look inward and make sure that our motives are proper, justified and responsible.
We have to look to see the perfection in Hashem’s world, perceiving the bigger picture that exists beyond our kehillos.
Before engaging in battle, we must see if there is a limud zechus, something that we failed to grasp the first time. We have to first see if there is a good side to the story before we declare war and condemn. If we are humble and selfless, we are better able to correctly analyze a situation and act properly.
After the Second World War, several orphanages were opened in Eretz Yisroel to accommodate the many children who tragically arrived to the new country without parents.
In Bnei Brak, there was a large orphanage that housed hundreds of young women. One of the neighbors had an issue with the institution and complained to the Chazon Ish.
“On Shabbos,” he said indignantly, “the girls sing zemiros and you can hear their voices outside the building. It’s an outrage.”
The Chazon Ish’s face lit up. “You’ve made me so happy. Maidelach cut away from their murdered parents, with bare memories of what the Shabbos tables looked like back in Europe, feel so at home and so happy that they are once again able to sing on Shabbos? Thank you for the good news.”
The Chazon Ish saw beyond the words. He grasped the truth beneath the surface and perceived the world in all its dimensions and was thus able to lead the Torah revolution in Eretz Yisroel.
“Mi yitein ess kol am Hashem nevi’im” was Moshe’s response to Yehoshua’s claims. Would that the whole Klal Yisroel develop the ability to say nevuah. The ultimate tov ayin wasn’t threatened by others. He understood that each person has his or her mission and role to play in Hashem’s world.
There is a famous statement of the rebbe Reb Zishe of Anipoli. He would say, “After 120 years, when I arrive in Shomayim, the Heavenly tribunal will not ask me why I was not like Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They will ask me if I was the Zishe I could have been.”
Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach would explain that since the world is eternal, Hashem doesn’t need us to be like the avos. He needs us to be Leizer, Chaim and Shimon. Hashem needs each of us to be what we can be and who we can be, and achieve what we can accomplish.
Let us all seek to light up the world until we merit for the world to radiate with the return of the ohr hagonuz.