Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey

The story is told of the cantor who was approached after the synagogue services by an indignant member of the congregation.

"That was the most awful rendition I ever heard in my life!"

The president of the synagogue turned to the cantor to console him: "Oh don't worry about him, he just repeats what everyone else says!"

The Torah portion this week Beshalach (Shmos [Exodus] 13:17-17:16) speaks of the song which Moses and the Israelites sang after the redemption from Egypt and the miraculous splitting of the sea. The verse states that "Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G-d..." (Shmos [Exodus]15:1)

The Talmud tells us that according to Rabbi Akiva, Moses said the first few words of the verse, "For He has triumphed gloriously" and everybody responded, "I will sing to G-d". They continued to respond with this refrain "I will sing to G-d" after each verse that Moses sang.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, however, Moses sang "I will sing to G-d," and everybody responded, repeating "I will sing to G-d". They continued, with the entire congregation repeating each verse after their leader.

Rabbi Nechemiah’s opinion is that Moses began by singing the opening words of the song, following which each person sang the rest of the song on their own.

These three opinions represent three different degrees of leadership and ability to inspire.

Rabbi Akiva is showing us a scenario where the people are totally given over to their leader. He alone sings the song of gratitude to G-d, with the people simply affirming everything he is expressing.

Although it may appear to be the ultimate unity, with everybody united behind one cause, Rabbi Eliezer takes this is unity yet further. According to him, they did not merely affirm by repeating the same refrain, but they actually repeated the words themselves. Each individual was able to internalize the words, becoming a reflection of that person's own deep feelings. The very same words, expressed by hundreds of thousands of different people, took on the many different nuances, depending on the individual person.

Rabbi Nechemiah takes leadership to the ultimate level. If it is really coming from their own deepest, essential being, why should they need to repeat it after somebody? According to Rabbi Nechemiah's view, Moses merely started them off with a few words of the song, thereby inspiring them to reach deep within and experience the miracle, with the result that each of them sang the entire song on their own.

True leadership is about empowering others to tune in, to be in harmony with the leader and the ideals being expressed and lived, thereby becoming leaders in their own right !

This weekend (January11) in the Jewish calendar, is 10 Shvat, marking the 64th anniversary of the passing of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM (in 1950) and the ascent to leadership of Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson,  OBM. To quote former Chief Rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, after having had audience with the Rebbe, “The world was wrong. When they thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was that here was a man with thousands of followers, they missed the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders”!

The Rebbe was indeed a great leader!

(Excerpts from - by Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg)

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!

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