Who could be more successful, more beloved, more worthy of respect than Mordecai? He was a superhero who stood up for the dignity of the Jewish people, who was largely responsible for averting Haman’s evil decree to annihilate the Jews, and who rose to be the king’s viceroy. Yet even Mordecai had his critics.
Angel for Shabbat
Rabbi Dr. David de Sola Pool served Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City for a period spanning 63 years, from 1907 until his death in December 1970. In remembrance of the 50th year anniversary of his passing, I quote from an article he wrote in 1944, entitled: "Are We Disinheriting Our Own Children?"
This week's Torah portion includes Jacob's last words to his sons. He described his fourth son, Judah, as a lion, and stated that the scepter of kingship would never depart from Judah (and his descendants). All the brothers (and their tribes) would turn to Judah for leadership. What did Judah do to deserve this singular role?
God did not approve of this totalitarian and authoritarian model for society. He confused the languages and scattered the population. He wanted to foster a world with different ways of speaking and different ways of thinking; He wanted to foster individuality and personal responsibility. He wanted authority not to be centralized in one small clique, but dispersed among many individuals in many localities.
Jacob came to recognize what all humans need to recognize: our lives have significance, we have goals to strive for; we are not lost and forgotten. We should not underestimate ourselves.
The Esavs of the world—whatever their religion or nationality—are hateful and arrogant bullies. The Yaacovs of the world—whatever their religion or nationality—need to stand up to those who would humiliate and crush them.
When people succumb to the self-image of victimhood, they live as perpetual victims. When the Yaacovs develop their strength and self-confidence, they can resist—and defeat—the bullying tactics of Esav.
“The Emperor has no clothes!” These words pierce through the illusions and propaganda and political correctness that engulf us. The many will ignore or deny these words. The few will listen, will face the truth, and will maintain their dignity and the dignity of humanity.
Healthy societies and communities depend on their members’ loyalty and sense of responsibility. They thrive when people work for the general good and not just for their own self-interest. People realize that if they are to enjoy the benefits of a society/community, they should rightfully share in the responsibilities of its maintenance.
If Shemini Hag Atsereth is God's challenge to the Jewish people, Simhat Torah is the Jewish people's answer to God. It is a very good answer, an inspiring answer; it is the only answer that can give us genuine strength and happiness as we face the complexities of the real world in which we live.
The Torah informs us that the festival of Succoth commemorates God’s providence over the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. An old question is: why was this holiday scheduled to begin specifically on the 15th day of Tishri?