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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Mishpatim

Parshat Mishpatim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Mishpatim                                                             Print Version
27th of Shevat, 5782 | January 29 , 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yonatan Magazinich
A Leader

We’d all agree that in some capacity, we all want to be leaders. Lead our family, lead our community, lead our team at work. But how can we best define leadership? What words come to mind when considering what it encompasses? Some immediate responses might include taking control, setting an example, being a role model. Now let’s ask it differently. What is the Torah’s definition of leadership? What qualities determine a leader in the Torah’s view?

We start with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Of Yaakov’s twelve children, and from whom the future mantel of leadership would stem, which of his sons was given the role? Yehudah. Dovid Hamelech and his son, Shlomo Hamelech, epitomized kingship and leadership in Jewish history, and they were descendants of Yehudah. But what was so special about Yehudah that earned him the aristocracy? If you’d run through the lives of each of the twelve tribes and consider their stories and lives from the Torah, it would be Yosef who’d seem to be the most fitting leader. Let’s look at his life and how he handled it.

He’s seventeen years old and is sold by his brothers to a caravan of Arabs. He is then sold as a slave to Egypt, and eventually rises from a slave to be the second most powerful person in Egypt, and the world at the time. But even with all of this, he didn't bear a grudge against his brothers. That’s the type of character Yosef was.

There's a second time Yosef doesn't hold a grudge. When Yaakov Avinu tells Yosef that he wants to be buried in Israel, Yosef quickly acquiesces. Yosef could have said to his father, “Wait a second… when my mother (Rachel Imeinu) passed away, you buried her on the side of the road. You didn’t even take her to the next closest city. And now you’re asking me to take you to Israel?” Now Yaakov is in a very vulnerable position, even though it was G-d who told him to bury her while on the road. That part of information was never disclosed to Yosef. But Yosef doesn’t respond this way. He rather tells his father that his wishes will be honored.

This was the type of man Yosef was. But there’s more.
Yosef was seventeen years old when he was sold into slavery. And what’s more, the Torah tells us, he was very handsome. At that point, his world was crumbling around him. He was alone, separated from his father, orphaned from his mother and in a home where the wife of Potiphar was tempting him to sin. But Yosef exhibited, day after day, extreme self-control and refused to give into her threats or his desires. It is Yosef’s integrity as a servant of Potiphar and his fear of G-d which directed his values and actions, and he didn’t budge from those virtues at all. But we know the rest of the episode – Yosef is thrown into jail.

But it’s there in jail that he interprets the dreams of Pharoah, which leads to his promotion as viceroy of Egypt, from where he devises a plan to save Egypt and the surrounding countries from an impending famine.

Yosef is a visionary with strong moral character and has self-control, integrity and does what’s right regardless of past hurts and misgivings. Yosef is in fact called Yosef Ha’tzaddik, Yosef the righteous, because of the way he lived his life. Of all the twelve brothers, it is Yosef whom we would assume should be the leader.
But it’s not. It’s Yehudah. And it’s a noteworthy choice, if we examine Yehudah’s actions and life.

Yehudah is the brother who suggests that Yosef be sold into slavery, which leads Yaakov Avinu to fall into a terrible depression. From here, the Torah records, “Yehudah went down,” which along with its literal geographical implication, means in stature in the eyes of his brothers. There, Yehudah marries a woman from the land of Canaan, which goes against family tradition to only marry within the family of Avraham Avinu. Additionally, Yehudah gets into a relationship with Tamar, who disguises herself and sits at the crossroads.

Considering the above, especially in comparison to the upright morality and virtue of Yosef, Yehudah does not appear to be the best candidate to lead the Jewish future. But he is. What is it then about Yehudah that catapulted him into such a role?
It is here that we begin to appreciate the defining qualities of leadership in the view of the Torah. Yes, Yosef is called a tzaddik, but that does not make up the Torah’s definition of being a leader. Yehudah does something which calls his actions into the spotlight and demonstrates a quality which epitomizes what every leader needs.

While expecting a child, Tamar is suspected of having committed adultery and is being taken out to be killed. It is then and there that she declares, “Whomever these items belong to, he is the father.” When Yehudah hears this and realizes it is him, he acknowledges that she is right. He takes ownership for his actions and assumes responsibility.

Let’s go further.

When the brothers stand before Yosef and Yosef demands that Binyamin be brought from his home to Egypt, Yehudah takes a stand. “Our father, Yaakov Avinu, has already lost one son, and he cannot afford to lose another. Binyamin is all he has left.” Here, of all the brothers, Yehudah takes responsibility.

Binyamin then goes down to Egypt and the worst nightmare unfolds. He is caught holding onto the cup of Yosef, and is brought back to the palace. Who stands up again? Yehudah. He boldly approaches Yosef and gives an impassioned speech about the necessity to let Binyamin go.

Even though Yehudah’s life is not per say perfect, and he is not the righteous man that Yosef is titled, there is one quality which always stands out about him: responsibility. And in the Torah’s view, that is the singular quality which defines leadership. It is an inner accountability and responsibility of self, wherein we take ownership of our mistakes and shortcomings and are honest with ourselves, along with responsibility for others. The word Yehudah, in fact, and the name by which we are called Jews – Yehudim – means “to admit.” When we admit, with complete self-awareness and honesty, where we have fallen short, and likewise assume responsibility of others and of situations in life, we are a leader.

We can likewise see this quality of a leader from its absence. Traveling back to Gan Eden, we see this clearly. After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem inquires what they had done. “What have you done?” Hashem asks of Adam. What is his response? “She gave to me to eat.” He shifts the blame to Chava, placing the onus upon her and upon G-d for giving her to him. He doesn’t take responsibility.

Later, after Kayin kills Hevel, G-d approaches him and asks what he has done, and what is Kayin’s response? “Am I my brother’s keeper?” There is a trend here. Lack of responsibility, and in fact shifting it and placing it on another. Moreover, Noach is told by G-d that He will be destroying the world through a flood and that Noach should build an ark to save his family. But Noach doesn’t vehemently fight for the world to be spared from destruction. There appears again to be a lack of responsibility.

Avraham Avinu is different. Avraham sees Lot’s sheep grazing on other people’s property and speaks up about it. This eventually leads to a separation between Avraham and Lot, as Avraham is not willing to associate himself with someone who so deeply doesn’t align with the values and type of man of G-d Avraham is. He gently breaks it to Lot that they will have to part ways.

But then Lot is captured in war. We might assume that Avraham Avinu, at odds with the type of man and character Lot is, wouldn’t rush into battle to save him. He might eventually take action, but not with as much gusto. But the Torah tells us that he brought an entire academy of students, or Eliezer, his most endeared student, and raced into battle. Avraham Avinu’s attitude is that I am my brother’s keeper, I am responsible for him, and I am going to save him. No bearing of any grudge or retaliation.

Hashem wants to destroy Sodom. What does Avraham Avinu do? He takes collective responsibility. In one of the longest recorded dialogues between Hashem and man in the Torah, Avraham Avinu goes back and forth with G-d, arguing that He spare the city from destruction. Avraham was a fearless leader who stood up in place and ahead of others and did what he saw as right. This is why the Jewish people descend from Avraham Avinu, and fall back on him as the forerunner of G-dliness and Jewish faith in the world.

Notably, Avraham is not referenced anywhere in the Torah as a tzaddik, righteous man. In fact, Noach is called righteous. But that’s because leadership is not epitomized by righteousness, but by ownership of your actions and taking initiative even when no one else is calling on you.

It’s about taking charge, taking initiative and taking responsibility. Avraham Avinu lived this way and eventually Yehudah did too, and from there, the future lineage of kings and leaders began to take shape. This quality which Yehudah embodied and demonstrated, in several ways at several times, became who he was.

That was Yehudah, the symbol of Jewish kingship and leadership and the ancestor of Moshiach.

Rabbi Yosef Palacci
The Diamond

A few years ago, a man named Michael was planning on getting married, but he came up against a few dilemmas. He had been on the path towards becoming more and more religious, in spite of his parents, who remained otherwise. With this as the case, his parents, who were covering the wedding expenses, didn’t deem it necessary to separate the men and women. But Michael was set on having it the other way, with a mechitzah and men and women having separate seating. “If you want it to be that way,” said his parents, “then you’ll need to pay for the wedding.” Michael was torn by this, but his principles were his principles. Come what may, at this point, it was going to be up to him to get the money together and pay for his own wedding. And how much did he need at this point? $8,000.

Days later, Michael was walking in Manhattan. It wasn’t right then and there, but had been something he’d become more and more mindful about in the last several months. And that was being careful of what he looked at. With the many enticing images swirling and surrounding him, it took a conscious effort to only look at what was appropriate. And so, as he would walk, he began making it a habit that he’d tilt his gaze towards the ground and focus on where he was walking, as opposed to having his eyes wander from side to side and be distracted by the many lights and images around.

That was the day. The day when he spotted it stuck into a crevice in the ground. A diamond ring, from Tiffany & Co. He bent down and, to his disbelief, it was a genuine diamond ring. He looked around, determined that its owner would come around sooner than later, but nothing. No one ever showed up.

Michael headed over to Tiffany’s, still reeling from what was going on. He’d get the ring appraised. The owner hadn’t come around and that left him with a diamond that could be worth more than he’d imagine. The appraisal? $8,000. Exactly the amount he needed to cover the expenses of his weeding.

What got to Michael more than anything, however, was why this all happened. Michael’s focus on leading a Torah life and determination on monitoring what he looked at led to him facing towards the ground, and from there… spotting a diamond whose value was exactly what he needed to pay for his wedding.

Nothing is coincidental. G-d notices everything we do. So long as we stick to our principles and values, we will be living our best life and G-d will take care of us.

Rabel Label Lam
Office of Parenthood

Somebody once told me that Rav Pam once said that sometimes the only Dvar Torah a child might hear from his parents is, “Kabed es avicha v’es imecha,” which translates into, “Honor your father and mother.” Rav Hirsch points out that this mitzvah is not only a commandment that devolves on the children to honor their parents, but it's also a mitzvah on the parents to honor the institution of fatherhood and motherhood.

One should imagine what if I was the leader of a great nation and I had tremendous authority? Well, if you're a parent, then you are the leader of a great nation and you do have tremendous authority. But rather than demanding respect, it would be more advisable to lead by example and to command respect and to bring dignity to the Office of Parenthood.

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