Much human misery is the result of people betraying themselves by adopting artificial personae. They are so anxious to impress or blend in with others that they lose their own selves in the process. Even worse, they come to believe that they actually are what their masks portray them to be. For them, falsehood becomes truth. They no longer have the ability to distinguish between who they are and who they are pretending to be.
Angel for Shabbat
Moses is seeking a leader who will be genuine, reliable and trustworthy. He asks for a leader who takes personal responsibility for each member of the community. He wants a real leader, not a false image of a leader. He wants a leader with an honest countenance, not one with a fake smile. He wants someone who actually believes in his mission, not someone who pretends to be a leader and goes through the charades of leadership for p.r. purposes.
Social justice is an essential ingredient in traditional Orthodox Judaism. It is important for Orthodox Judaism to reclaim its visionary universalistic worldview. Along with adherence to our ritual mitzvoth, we need to enlarge our commitment to the mitzvoth of social responsibility and social activism. With an inspired and vocal Orthodox Judaism, the world can become a better place for all.
Rabbinic literature includes the names and teachings of many great and well-known sages. Yet, the rabbi who is mentioned most often in our liturgy is Rabbi Hananya ben Akashya—an obscure figure about whom we know almost nothing. We quote him at the end of our Musaf service, before the kaddish; and after every public Torah study session, to introduce the recitation of kaddish.
The public often falls prey to the blandishments and lies of the demagogues; the public can be manipulated to think that a Korah is actually better than a Moses.The great virtues of the sons of Korah were their clarity of mind, their moral courage to resist the tide of rebellion and dissension, their commitment to truth over demagoguery.
Moses and Aaron had been unable to foresee or fend off the “gloomititis.” This, it may be suggested, was the “sin” that disqualified them from entering the promised land. They had fallen out of touch with the needs and feelings of the people, and thus they were no longer able to lead them properly.
My late friend and mentor, Professor Mair Jose Benardete, once told me: “You don’t determine truth by counting bonnets!” When seeking truth, one must not be swayed by numbers, by majorities. History has proven time and again that multitudes are often wrong, that lonely dissenting individuals frequently are the great spiritual and cultural heroes of humanity.
An inevitable feature of human life is making mistakes. No one is always right; no one always makes the correct decisions. The sign of greatness is to recognize our mistakes and misjudgments and seek a second chance. Even if one’s original error had been made with the best of intentions, one needs the strength to say: I was wrong; I need a second chance.
The Pirkei Avot (5:22) contrasts the virtues of Abraham with the vices of Bil’am. Why did the author of this passage specifically choose to contrast Abraham and Bil’am? Perhaps the answer is to be found in how each of them dealt with an external group of people with whom they had no particular connection.
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.