Selfless

The American media is distressed, because the president lectured a disrespectful reporter and then revoked his credentials. The media bosses and colleagues defended the grandstanding reporter and bashed the president. After holding a press conference for 90 minutes and answering 87 questions, all the issues the president discussed were forgotten. One headline emerged from a long session with the president designed to elicit information for the American people. That lone oft-repeated story pertained to the president telling the reporter that he is a rude person who is an embarrassment to his media bosses, who defended the insolent behavior.

The White House press corps, on a regular basis, produces negative coverage of a president they despise, though the job of a reporter is to present objective coverage of the news. The liberal bent of the media is nothing new. The shameless way they bash the administration is. There is incessant grandstanding, with reporters viewing themselves as superior to the leader of the free world and entitled to debate him as they pose adversarial questions.

Their behavior is reflective of the arrogance of a generation raised on feelings of entitlement. People across the country feel that by dint of pedigree, portfolio or will, they are entitled to boss others and call into question actions of responsible, trusted leaders.

Today, it’s all about hits and attention. People who ought to know better provide platforms for irrational thoughts and behaviors in the interest of gaining attention for themselves and their publications. The sense of responsibility that in the past prevented unreasonable people and ideas from getting a hearing is all but gone.

We come from much better stuff. We have to demand better.

The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 71:5) relates that Leah, who thanked Hashem when giving birth to Yehudah, excelled in the attribute of “hoda’ah,” and therefore gave birth to people such as Yehudah, who admitted that Tamar was correct, Dovid, who said, “Hodu laHashem ki tov,” and Doniel, who said, “Loch eloa avhosi mehodei umeshabach anuh.”

Rochel, who did not reveal to Yaakov that her father was actually giving him Leah in marriage, excelled in the attribute of shtikah, and her children followed in her ways. Binyomin knew that his brother Yosef had been sold but did not reveal the secret even though he was not bound by the oath not to disclose what happened to Yosef. Shaul did not reveal that Shmuel had discussed the royalty with him, even though doing so would have brought him much pleasure. Esther did not reveal to Achashveirosh that she was Jewish.

Leah thanked Hashem, as did her offspring Dovid and Doniel, but the example of Yehudah is not an exact match, for he didn’t thank anyone. He admitted that Tamar was correct and he was wrong. In Hebrew, the same word can be used to refer to admission and appreciation.

Rochel knew that Lovon had substituted her sister Leah in her place on Yaakov’s wedding night, but rather than cause her sister embarrassment, she did not reveal the switch to Yaakov, who had worked seven years for the privilege of marrying Rochel. For all she knew, Rochel was thereby forfeiting her future as a wife to Yaakov and matriarch of Klal Yisroel.

The examples cited by the Medrash to indicate that her offspring followed in her way do not seem to match what she did. None of the people quoted by the Medrash gave up anything when they did not reveal their secret. Why, then, are their acts of silence traced to the middah of shtikah as personified by Rochel?

Perhaps we can explain that the lesson the Medrash is teaching us about the middos of our imahos is that they placed the needs and concerns of other people ahead of their own. By remaining silent and helping Leah, Rochel put the feelings of her sister before her own needs.

The attribute of being selfless and subjugating themselves for the greater public good, was evident in Binyomin, who didn’t reveal the brothers’ secret about Yosef. He thus allowed the drama to play out and Yosef was able to prepare a place of refuge for the shevotim and their families. Shaul did the same by not revealing what Shmuel told him about becoming king, though he no doubt would have derived much enjoyment by sharing the news. He suppressed the basic human desire for honor and demonstrated that he was indeed worthy of the leadership position.

 

Mordechai told Esther not to let Achashveirosh know of her heritage, so that she would be able to play a leading role in saving the Jewish people from the evil designs of Haman. Rather than seeking the easy way out, she followed Mordechai’s instruction and went on to become an eternal Jewish heroine.

The greatness of their middah of shtikah was not so much their silence as it was sacrificing their own benefits for the benefit of others. This middah of Rochel was evident throughout her life and also following her passing. Leah was buried with Yaakov in the Meoras Hamachpeilah, and although it was not by her choosing, Rochel’s place was forfeited so that at a later time she would be able to help her descendants as they were sent into exile.

In order to be grateful, a person has to recognize that he has benefited from someone who made it possible for him to obtain whatever it is that he is grateful for. A haughty person thinks that he deserves everything and never thanks anybody for anything, for it is beneath his dignity to acknowledge that someone had something that he didn’t have and that person allowed him to benefit. Being able to express gratitude necessitates a measure of humility.

The following is repeated so often that it has become a cliché. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky would keep pebbles in his drawer. He would say that they were there so that when he did a favor for someone, he could give the person a pebble. “That way,” he explained, “instead of throwing a stone at me, he would throw a pebble and it would not be as hurtful.” People often have trouble acknowledging a favor that was done for them and expressing heartfelt appreciation. So great is the difficulty to appreciate a measure of indebtedness to others that oftentimes the recipient of the benevolence develops hatred toward his benefactor.

Leah proclaimed, “Hapa’am odeh es Hashem,” upon the birth of Yehudah, for she felt that she had received more than what she was entitled to. Dovid thanked Hashem for all he had received in his life, recognizing that it was all due to the beneficence of Hashem. Doniel thanked Hashem and said that his intelligence and strength were Divine gifts. These individuals recognized that what they possessed was not theirs by right, but was rather given to them by Divine providence.

When Leah’s first son was born, she called him Reuvein. Rashi (Bereishis 29:32) cites the Gemara (Brachos 7b) which states that Leah said, “Reu – See the difference between my son and the son of my mother-in-law. Her son, Eisov, sold his bechorah to Yaakov and later sought to kill him over that. My son, Reuvein, had the bechorah forcefully taken from him by Yosef. Not only wasn’t he jealous, but he ran to save him when the brothers sought to kill him.”

Leah wasn’t bragging that she was better than her mother-in-law. Rather, she was proud that her son forsook his birthright for the greater good of the Divine plan that Yosef be considered the bechor instead of him. He wasn’t jealous and didn’t create controversy. Instead, he happily accepted what Hashgocha had dealt him and was mevatel his own ego and wants.

Both Leah and Rochel had the middah of bitul, the ability to negate their own self-worth. Humility is the basis for other good middos and the commitment to work to help others. If you are humble, then you are able to be unencumbered by your physical desires and serve as a source of good and comfort for others. A person who puts his/her own interests last is one who excels at being not only a leader, but also a parent, sibling and teacher, as well as quite anything else that involves interacting with other people.

This is why Leah and Rochel are the epitome of Jewish mothers.

This attitude was also evident in their maidens. The posuk states that when Rochel was barren, “Vateileid Bilha shifchas Rochel – Rochel’s maid Bilha gave birth to a second son of Yaakov.” Rav Aharon Hakohein, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, explains that the reason the posuk notes again that Bilha was Rochel’s maid, is to show that even after Rochel gave her as a wife to Yaakov and she bore him two sons, she still handled herself with humility as a maid toward Rochel. Bilha did not behave as Sorah’s maid Hagar did after giving birth to Avrohom’s child. Rather, as befitting a mother of shevotim, she was humble and respectful.

The Alter of Kelm says that the reason the avos were shepherds was because that task allowed them to improve their middah of humility, which leads to the middah of mercy. A pretentious person loves and cares primarily about himself. He doesn’t sympathize with or feel the pain of others. Therefore, they tended flocks of sheep, leading and feeding them with care and according to their specific needs. If they were kind to animals, certainly they would be compassionate and considerate in their interactions with Hashem’s chosen people.

When Eliezer tested Rivka to determine whether she was a suitable match for Yitzchok he waited to see if she would offer to water his camels. He was checking to ascertain whether she possessed the middah of selflessness which personified the imahos. Would she perform chesed with an animal, incapable of expressing appreciation for the kindness. Could she put her own interests and feelings aside and busy herself with a stranger’s animals.

Avrohom and Sorah spent their lives reaching out to people and teaching them about the Creator, because they cared about others and sought to improve them. Avrohom and Sorah were the paragon of chesed, negating their own comforts and wants in order to benefit others who were much lower than them spiritually.

Rav Elya Chaim Meisel was one of the leading giants of Torah and chesed in his day. He was participating at a meeting of leading rabbonim and one of his colleagues disagreed with him. The other rabbi mocked Rav Elya Chaim and said that though he is a gaon in Torah, his involvement with tzedokah and chesed causes him to frequently interrupt his learning and leads to bitul Torah.

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was at the meeting. He defended his illustrious colleague and said, “A rov who closes his Gemara to engage in charitable acts, even when the Gemara is closed it is as if it is open. A rov who doesn’t close his Gemara at a time when he should be engaging in chesed, even when his Gemara is open, it is as if it is closed.”

Selflessness and sacrificing what you would rather be doing to help others, is at the heart of greatness.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was traveling in a car together with other people. It was a rainy, foggy night and the driver missed a turn. One of the passengers complained that the ride was taking so long because the driver didn’t turn where he was supposed to. Rav Moshe remained silent. A short while later, he was looking out the window and commented on how dark and treacherous it was outside. “It’s a wonder the driver can see where he’s going,” he said.

The driver later remarked that he knew that Rav Moshe made that comment to assuage his feelings and noted that the fact that he didn’t say it as an obvious response to the unhappy passenger made it that much more comforting.

Great people are considerate of the feelings of others.

A baal chesed and a good Jew does not view himself as holier or better than anyone else. All are equal in the eyes of Hashem, regardless of their I.Q. or financial standing. Everyone is treated with kindness and care.

Being humble, loving and generous are traits our forefathers and foremothers passed on to us. We subjugate our egos for the benefit of others. We recognize that if every person had his /her way, a community could not flourish. We all contribute to the better good, though at times that involves pain and discomfort. We recognize that we cannot always have our way and that it is necessary for the minority to acquiesce to the wishes of the majority when they are grounded in Torah.

When people who are unqualified feel that they have the right to debate the most powerful democratic leader in the world and create dissension among the populace, something is wrong with society. When misguided individuals assume leadership positions, the danger that their twisted ideology and theories will impact the masses becomes very real.

All throughout history, the world has suffered from the braggadocio of leaders who viewed themselves as superior to all and put their selfish desires ahead of the needs of the people they represented. The masses suffer deprivation and worse as the tyrant relishes in gluttonous gratification.

Deleterious behavior is rooted in bad middos. Let us study the examples of the avos and imahos of Am Yisroel, as well as those who preceded us, and perfect the way we think and act so that we can improve our lives and help prepare the world for the grandchildren of Rochel and Leah, Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, to redeem us.

 

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