Shabbat Parshat Ki Tisa - 5759
A Model for Leadership
Certainly here in the United States and, sadly, to some degree even in the State of Israel, standards of leadership seem to have fallen. Gone, at least for the time being, are the likes of P.M. Menachem Begin, who combined a good heart with eloquence and absolute integrity, together with knowledge of and loyalty to Jewish values and traditions, which implied loyalty and devotion to his beloved wife.
In Parshat Ki Tisa, we find a demonstration of leadership par excellence in the behavior of Moshe, upon hearing the shocking news from G-d that the Jewish People were worshipping the Golden Calf. This behavior is highlighted in the context of a discussion among Tannaim in the Zohar, quoted by Rav Yissachar Yaakovson in "Binah BaMikra," as to which of our Biblical heroes qualifies for the title of "av harachaman," "merciful father."
The first candidate, Noach, described in the Torah as "tamim haya b'dorotav," "he was perfect, in his generation," is rejected without much discussion. For he was apprised of what was to be the fate of humanity one hundred twenty years before the rains and eruptions of the "Mabul," the Great Flood, began. To build a boat the size of the Ark with a construction crew the size of Noach's family (not to mention union rules against excessive overtime) took that long! And yet, during all that time, he neither prayed nor argued in defense of his generation in a manner sufficient to cause G-d to change, as it were, "His Mind."
Other Midrashic Traditions are not so hard on Noach, and maintain that during all those years of Ark-building, Noach attempted to give "mussar," "ethical reproof" to curious observers of his activities. Thus, he was not guilty, according to those traditions, of not trying, but of simply being an ineffective preacher, and he would qualify for the title of "av," "father," as in "Shema b'ni mussar avicha," "Pay attention, my son, to the reproof of your father."
Avraham is presented by Rabbi Yehudah as the next candidate, based on his behavior when he learned from G-d of the imminent destruction of Sodom. Avraham, though he was made of dust and ashes, immediately challenged his Creator, "Would You destroy the good with the wicked?" And he bargains with Hashem down to a "Minyan," a quorum of ten, decent men, which Sodom did not even number among its residents. Only then does Avraham give up his defense! Surely he deserves the title of "av harachaman," "merciful father."
Perhaps. But Rabbi Eliezer finds fault even with the behavior of Avraham who, after all, prayed, or argued in behalf of, only the righteous! He was prepared to let the wicked Sodomites meet their fate. This, according to Rabbi Eliezer, prevents even Avraham, the "Amud HaChessed,' the "Pillar of Kindness" in the World, from receiving the coveted title.
Who is left? Only Moshe, according to Rabbi Eliezer, who, upon learning that Hashem intended to destroy the People of Israel for their lack of faithfulness, immediately began to pray in their behalf and, in his prayer, made no distinction between the righteous and the wicked. As the verse implies, "Vayechal Moshe," "And Moshe pleaded," and he said, "veata im tisa chatatam, v'im ayin - mecheni na misifrecha asher katavta," "And now, if You forgive them, well and good. But if not, erase me as well, I beg of You, from the Book which You have written!" And Moshe did not relent, so to speak, until Hashem said "I have forgiven, according to your words." Therefore, Moshe gets the crown, not only of "merciful father," but also of "faithful shepherd," who knew best how to protect his flock against danger.
Who will plead for us, in our sinful generation? We certainly have no Moshe, who was able to speak to G-d at any time! With equal certainty, we have no Avraham, who established merit for all generations by the Act of the Akeidah. It is doubtful that we even have a Noach, to whom G-d spoke.
We have none other than the One we call upon in prayer as "Avinu, Av HaRachaman," "Our Father, the Merciful Father," Who will stand in the breach and defend us against our enemies. May He fulfill his vow to our "Avot" our forefathers, by letting us keep Eretz Yisrael, even if we don't deserve it. By giving us a "second chance" again, even if we don't deserve it, to work on ourselves and on spreading His Torah, until we become again a Holy Nation, deserving of the Holy Land.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU