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Friday, May 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Bemidbar

Today marks the seventh yahrtzeit of my mother, o"h. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasah, Tzirel Nechama bas Tuvia Yehudah.
    In honour of the Yahrtzeit, I made a siyum last night on mishnayos seder Nezikin. The last masechta is Horayos, dealing with the procedures pertaining to a serious misjudgment on the part of any of the various leaders such as the Kohein Gadol or Beis Din. It is a theme which is quite apropos as we begin sefer Bemidbar. Throughout this sefer we find leadership as a primary focus: At the very beginning, we are introduced to the leaders of each tribe. As the tribes are enumerated again later regarding the formation of the camps and again later regarding the travel formations, the leaders are once again listed. A majority of parshas Naso is dedicated to the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. Beha'alosecha details the appointing of the 70 zekeinim. The 12 spies were each the leaders of their respective tribes. Moshe's leadership is challenged by Korach and finally, in parshas Pinechas, Moshe prepares to pass the baton to Yehoshua.
    I recall when Pope John Paul died three years ago and the subject of religious and spiritual leadership was prevalent in the world at large, a common topic in the Jewish world was what actually differentiates "us" from "them." In what way is our leadership different from theirs? When R' Moshe Hauer addressed this subject, he brought up the concept of papal infallibility, the somewhat foolish declaration that no matter what the pope ever says on matters of faith and morality, he can never be wrong. This fails to realize a fundamental truth - our leaders are human and humans can make mistakes. Indeed, maseches Horayos is the most glaring example of how Judaism comes to terms with that truth. There is a complete set of laws that address the gravest of errors made by the most prestigious leaders of our nation. It is almost unthinkable that a Beis Din could mistakenly permit a form of Avodah Zarah and yet, we have a whole tractate dedicated to the procedures that follow if it were to happen, God forbid.
    On a related note, the pope is meant to live a life vastly different from his constituents. While their religion believes in the family and the importance of procreation, their leaders lead lives of celibacy. How, then, are the common laymen able to look up to their leaders and emulate them? After all, who can attempt to emulate someone who is perfect? The Jewish model, conversely, is more heavily focused on emulating our leaders. The very last mishnah brings home part of that idea. First, we are taught the "intrinsic hierarchy," which kinds of Jews are given a higher level of respect than others. Kohanim come before Levi'im, Levi'im before Yisraelim, etc. This is a hierarchy that most are essentially born into. However, the final statement of the mishnah is that these levels pertain only to individuals on an equal scholarly footing. But even a mamzer who is a talmid chacham is given precedence over a Kohein Gadol who is an am ha'aretz. No matter what situation a Jew is born into, it is in his powers to ascend to the highest levels by dedicating himself to becoming a talmid chacham. There are countless gedolim coming from modest roots who are great examples of this.
    While our nation as a whole is heavily focused on its leaders, the Jewish home is very much a microcosm of that broader picture. In the home, we have our leaders whom we look up to and emulate. It is perhaps even more demanding. In the national arena, we can remain laymen for life. We can observe leadership and emulate them to a certain degree without ever having to worry about actually being thrown into that demanding role. In the home, however, we must learn from our leaders how to eventually become leaders ourselves. There is certainly no more appropriate day to focus on these thoughts than today.


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