Friday, July 3, 2015

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman

This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his late mother
Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM.

Following are the reactions of two leaders, one referred to in this week’s Torah portion Balak (Bamidbor [Numbers] 22:2-25:9) and one in the previous week’s portion, Chukas, who faced a similar enemy: Fear.

One was gripped and stripped by it. This was the reaction of Balak, King of Moab, upon learning of the (purported) advance of the Israelite army—the same army that had just recently defeated Sichon and Og, mighty monarchs just to his north.
Worse than his reaction is what he chose to do with it. He doled out large portions of terror to his unlucky citizens.

Cries of "The Jews are coming!" overtook the Moabite kingdom. Rumors about the size and strength of the Israelites spread faster than the speed of gossip, leaving fear-marks in their wake.
"Moab was very frightened of the [Jewish] people…" So frightened that they "were disgusted 'with their own lives'!"1

We can detect the naked and feverish fear in their voices. "Moab said to the elders of Midian: "Now the [Jewish] congregation will chew up our entire surroundings, as an ox chews up the greenery of the field!"

They were clearly scared stiff. And all because of one man – their king, no less! – who couldn't keep his fear to himself.

Balak wasn't a leader but a follower, who meekly took commands from his uncontrollable heart.

But in the Israelite camp, a different mood prevailed.

Not long before, in the previous Torah portion, Moses also experienced a reason for fear, as the Torah describes: "Og, king of Bashan, went out against [the Jews], him and his entire people, to do battle…" Og was then the superpower of the world, king of that ancient jungle.

What potentially threatened Moses' cool was Og's merit, not his might.

"Moses was afraid to wage war lest the merit of Abraham stand on Og's behalf" the Midrash says.

Og had been the one to inform Abraham that his nephew Lot had been captured, which allowed him to launch a successful rescue operation. Perhaps, Moses feared, this merit would stand Og in good stead, and bring him victory…

Yet instead of pouring his fear out and onto his people, Moses bottled it tightly, and froze it away. He then strapped on a face of calm and fortitude, and went around spreading confidence and sowing the composure that helped his people win the war.That's the story of Moses: king of his heart and king of Israel.

 Leaders have the great but daunting responsibility of putting the people they lead, before themselves, whatever the circumstance.

For better or worse, the look in the eyes of a nation reflects the look in the eyes of its leader. His or her tone is their tone.

The same holds true for parents, teachers, mentors, and friends, who shape the futures and features of those in their care, who like sparkling-clean mirrors reflect the sight, light, and might that is shown and shone into them.

On a similar note:

We live in difficult economic times. That doesn't mean our children have to.

It didn't dawn on a particular friend of mine that his blissful childhood was set in abject poverty until he was a grown man. How many others are unfortunately too aware? (Some of whom, incidentally, come from financially better-off homes than my friend…)

The ramifications and sometimes long-term effects can be huge. Take this story for example:

A young girl from a very poor family was having terrifying dreams. Her parents consulted a rabbi about this problem. He said: "The Sages say that we dream at night what we think about during the day. Ask your daughter what she is afraid of."
When they asked her, she replied: "I often see how you both sit and worry over the poverty we live in. Of everything, I am most afraid of your fear…"

So fake it, in order for your child (or spouse or friend) to make it.

(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson)

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