In his essay “Fate and Destiny,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik delineates two aspects of Jewish peoplehood: the camp and the congregation. “The camp is created as a result of the desire for self-defense and is nurtured by a sense of fear; the congregation is created as a result of the longing for the realization of an exalted ethical idea and is nurtured by the sentiment of love. Fate reigns in unbounded fashion in the camp; destiny reigns in the congregation….”
Angel for Shabbat
Angel for Shabbat, Matot Masei
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
It is said that when Alexander the Great reached the peak of his career by conquering the entire known world—he broke down and cried.
One explanation for his crying is that he realized that there were no more battles for him to undertake. His best achievements were in the past. He had climbed to the top and had nowhere else to go. He cried in frustration.
In our world today, we are—unfortunately—accustomed to dealing with biased, hate-filled, and dishonest enemies. We sometimes wonder why people abandon reason and fairness in order to maintain hateful prejudices.
But we also know that the “Bil’am effect” is possible. Some special individuals—steeped in animosity and prejudice—can rise above their biases, can open their eyes, can become forces for good instead of pawns of evil.
In his book, “The Case for Democracy,” Natan Sharansky divides the world into two kinds of societies: fear societies, and free societies. Fear societies are tyrannies which rule by terrorizing their subjects, by restricting freedom of speech and movement, by instilling fear so that people will not voice opposition to the rulers. Fear societies are controlled by tyrants who are not hesitant to brutalize their people in order to quash dissent.
When the Israelites were liberated from their slavery in Egypt, they did not—and could not—immediately become free people. Although the physical servitude had come to an end, psychological/emotional slavery continued to imbue their perception of life.
As we experience the weeks of consolation, we are reminded that mourning is a process. It begins with God being in Heaven--remote from us--, but goes on to enable us to restore our relationship with God as being close to us. Isaiah announces God’s own promise: be comforted My people. I am here with you. Redemption will come.
The goal of Torah is not to enslave us but to liberate us; it is not to undermine our basic humanity but to bring out the best in us. It demands dignified observance of religious ceremonies and rituals; but it also demands a spirit of love and kindness in our interpersonal relations.
Many people feel the need to be noticed. They dye their hair neon green, or they wear immodest clothing, or they say things that are intended to shock. They will do anything to keep the limelight focused on themselves: they will tell a stream of jokes, they will speak without listening to others, they will take “selfies” and send them to anyone and everyone they can think of. The message they convey is: NOTICE ME.
True religious leadership is not manifested in seeking power or control, nor in seeking honor or public accolades. Just the opposite! A genuine religious leader, like Moses, must exemplify humility and self-sacrifice.
When people—individually, communally, nationally—have disagreements, they can engage in serious discussion and dialogue even if the parties are critical of each other’s positions. But when people—individually, communally, nationally—are contemptuous of the other side, then the basis for discussion, debate and reconciliation is undermined. The contemptuous party or parties see themselves as being superior; they are above discussion or criticism; their opponents are discredited and dehumanized.