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Be A Little Moses!

06/15/2018 12:12:56 PM

Jun15

How should a Jewish leader react when their generation has been overcome by sin and waywardness?

Historically there have been three different kinds of approaches:

Noach paradigm: When G-d planned to destroy all of humanity due to their sinful behavior, he instructed Noach to build an ark to save the good people. Noach worked tirelessly to build the ark and to ensure that he and his family will be saved. But Noach didn’t create any campaign to positively influence and save any others.

Similarly, there have been many righteous people who kept their spiritual fervor to themselves and to their closest loved ones, but for whatever reason did not actively work to spread their teachings and inspiration to others.

Avraham paradigm: Avraham was very different than Noach. He dedicated his life to reaching out to many others and to spread the word of G-d and truth. However, when G-d notified Avraham that he was destroying Sodom and Gomorrah due to their wicked ways, Avraham prayed to spare their fate by evoking the merits of tzadikkim in those cities. When G-d informed him that there weren’t any tzadikkim in those cities, Avraham retreated.

Similarly, there have been many righteous people who dedicated their lives to teaching and leading many followers and large communities, but with the proviso that they too become righteous as well. When someone was evidently not ready or suited to live up to such levels, they were no longer included within the community.

Moshe paradigm: When the Jewish people turned their backs on G-d and worshipped the golden calf instead, G-d decided to destroy the wicked nation, and promised Moshe that he will help him build a new and more righteous nation. Yet Moshe opposed G-d’s idea and insisted that G-d spare their lives – all of them, even the very rebellious ones. So much so, that Moshe made an ultimatum with G-d that if G-d chose to proceed with His plan of destruction, he wants out. “If you will not spare my nation, please remove me from your Torah and from the narrative of Jewish history.”

Similarly, there have been righteous people who committed their lives to leading, representing and including all Jewish people, no matter their level of spiritual stature. They didn’t stipulate any conditions for a Jew to be included under their wings. Of course, their overarching goal was to bring all Jews closer to G-d and the Torah, but their love and care for each Jew wasn’t contingent on the success of that goal.

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G-d chose to give the Torah to Moshe and to appoint him as the first and model leader of all Jewish people. This tells us, that whilst both the ‘Noach paradigm’ and the ‘Avraham paradigm’ are valid, and each may be appropriate in some place or time, ultimately only a tzaddik of the ‘Moshe paradigm’ can be a supreme leader for an entire generation.

This helps us understand a perplexing issue in the story of the spies from last week’s Torah portion. When Moshe sent the 12 spies to scout the land of Israel, he prayed for only one of them – Joshua – that G-d should spare him from the bad counsel of the others.

Now, if Moshe indeed suspected that the spies might disappoint in their mission, then why didn’t he pray for them all?

An innovative spiritual teaching offers an unconventional insight into the story of the spies.

The spies were all righteous and prominent leaders and carefully selected by Moshe. It seems unreasonable to suggest that they failed so dismally in their mission and turned their backs on G-d and His promise for the land of Israel.

Rather, the spies were reflecting on the two possibilities that lay ahead for the Jewish people – either to enter the land of Israel, or to remain in the desert.

In the desert, the Jews were being miraculously cared for by G-d. Without needing to work, they were provided with food, water, clothing and safety. They had all the time and comforts one could ask for which allowed them to completely dedicate themselves to studying Torah and living spiritually. The surrounding ‘clouds of glory’ were also a protective spiritual cocoon, which ensured that the Jews would all remain faithful to G-d. Living in the desert was a safe and comfortable option.

Upon entering in to Israel, the Jews would essentially need to leave their spiritual cocoon and begin building a life amid the harsh realities of our world. They would need to spend many hours toiling to earn a living and build a society; they would need to confront both physical and spiritual dangers and learn how to deal with them; and they would have much less time and headspace to study Torah and live spiritually. Entering Israel posed a significant risk to their spiritual identities. Not only did it present the possibility for a Jew to lose their faith, but in fact that is what happened to many Jews.

So the spies decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. After all G-d has done for them, it would be most appropriate to design a future which could guarantee the Jews’ faithfulness to G-d. Their ‘mistake’ was completely motivated by altruistic reasoning.  

Moshe suspected that they may arrive at this conclusion, and wasn’t so bothered by it. Moshe understood that there will be many leaders, and their followers, who would prefer to live a more isolated and spiritually-insulated life. For them, if that’s what works, then so be it.

But Joshua – Moshe’s prize student – was going to be Moshe’s successor. He was going to become the supreme leader of his entire generation, the ‘Moshe’ of his generation. To be a ‘Moshe’, you must choose to enter Israel. You must be ready to take risks. You must be willing to see grey, not just black-and-white. You must understand that not all people will succeed in living highly spiritual and faithful lives. You must appreciate that even if a Jew sways from the Jewish path, they are still G-d’s child, and a precious member of the Jewish family. And you must be a representative of all Jews, irrespective of their status.

That’s why Moshe prayed for Joshua. If the others chose to live like ‘Noach’ or ‘Avraham’, that’s fine. But Joshua must become a ‘Moshe.”

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This Shabbat commemorates the yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Rebbe was undoubtedly a ‘Moshe’ in our times. He dedicated his life to representing, and caring for, all Jews, no matter how they looked, behaved or believed.

Among the many reflections on such a day, we should be grateful for having had such a giant in our times.

Another appropriate reflection is for each of us to consider 'how are we living like "Moshe' in our lives'? When each of us commit to being a 'Moshe' to the best of our ability, we will certainly witness the final redemption and a world filled with peace and goodness very soon!

Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, December 19 2018 11 Tevet 5779