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Torah for the Times

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TORAH FOR THE TIMES 
  
 
 
 
Torah Reading : Vayeishev Genesis 37:1- 40:23 
Haftora: Amos 2:1 - 3:8
 
Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:13 PM 

 

  
 
 
B”H
VAYEISHEV
CHANUKAH AND THE MONARCHY
 
This week's Torah portion—Vayeishev—precedes Chanukah by just a few days. There is a well known tradition that there is always a close connection between weekly Torah readings and the festivals that occur in close proximity to the Torah portion.
 
In this spirit, we ought to reflect on one theme that links this week's parsha with Chanukah.
 
The heroes of Chanukah were a family of Kohanim, known as the Hasmoneans, the Chashmonaim.
 
In the aftermath of their victory over the Syrian Greek forces and their rededication of the Temple, the Hasmoneans arrogated to themselves the role of monarchs. And while, initially, these leaders were righteous and pious men who were dedicated to making the Land of Israel reflect its original status as a G‑dly land, subsequent generations of Hasmonean monarchs degenerated spiritually and had thereby sown the seeds for their eventual demise. Every single member of that Hasmonean dynasty was murdered by King Herod. According to the Talmud, there was not one surviving descendent of that glorious and heroic family!
 
Nachmanides, the great 13th century commentator states that their extinction was a punishment for assuming the role of monarchs. He further states that they had committed a double sin:
 
First, it is forbidden for a Kohain-priest, whose role is strictly spiritual and Temple oriented, to serve as a monarch. The two roles must be separated.
 
Second, even a non-priest has an obligation to coronate a member of the Davidic dynasty, to whom the Torah promises the monarchy. And while the Hasmoneans were pious and heroic individuals without whom the miracle of Chanukah would not have occurred, nevertheless, they erred egregiously, Nachmanides writes, for not having abdicated in favor of a scion of the Davidic family.
 
What is it about the Davidic family—that traces itself back to Judah , the fourth of Jacob's sons that we read about in this week's parsha—that makes them the worthy occupiers of the throne of Israel ?
 
There were many traits that King David and his progenitor Judah possessed that made them and their kin worthy of being the leaders of the Jewish nation. We would expect to hear an echo of Judah's uniqueness in this week's parsha, the one in which we are introduced to the adult Judah .
 
But, as we review the way Judah behaved in this week's parsha, which on the surface seems to appear to be less than illustrious, the question can be asked, why did Judah deserve to become the model of leadership for all future generations?
 
There are two incidents in this week's parsha that describe the way Judah saved a person's life. In the first narrative, the Torah relates how Joseph's brothers sought to kill him. Judah intervened and convinced the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead. This was the first example of a leader, who overruled his older brothers and convinced them to spare Joseph's life.
 
And though Judah saved Joseph's life, this intervention did not suffice to establish his credentials as a leader. In fact, this half-baked intervention which left Joseph as a slave, albeit a living slave, is harshly criticized by our Talmudic Sages. Indeed, they state that his brothers—upon seeing the anguish their father suffered—"demoted" Judah from his position of prominence. They felt, that had he argued for Joseph's complete freedom, they would have complied and Jacob would have been spared this horrible ordeal of losing his beloved child.
 
Nevertheless, the fact that he recognized that he had erred and behaved differently in a second situation was what made him worthy as the model for ideal leadership.
 
In the first instance, Judah, though he saved his brother's life, he did not (a) finish the job; (b) sacrifice his own prestige or comfort to do so. One of the tests of character, and therefore of leadership, is the way one behaves when they choose the well-being of another over the protection of their own honor and reputation.
 
This did occur in the second narrative that involved Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. Tamar's two husbands had died because of their evil ways. According to existing tradition, Tamar was expected to marry Judah's third surviving son, or even Judah himself. (Marrying a widowed daughter-in-law was not yet prohibited.)
 
When Judah hesitated to fulfill his obligation, Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and seduced Judah from whom she conceived. In several months, when it became apparent that Tamar—who was expected to marry, and therefore considered to be betrothed to Judah's third son, or to Judah himself—had an affair, she was convicted of "adultery" and sentenced to death. When she produced the items that Judah gave her in lieu of payment for her "services," he readily confessed that he was the one responsible for her situation, and her life was spared. To spare himself the embarrassment caused by his confession, he could have easily denied everything. Yet Judah chose to overlook his own honor and save a life.
 
The fact that Judah put aside his own honor and reputation for the well-being of another proved his worthiness as a leader of his people. Of course, the ideal leader must possess many other qualities as well, but the fact that the first actions of Judah-the first Jewish leader - involved the saving of an individual's life, is significant.
 
A true Jewish leader—contrary to most political and religious leaders of our time—has to put the interests of his people—even of one individual—ahead of his own personal interest and prestige. This was the hallmark of Jewish leadership throughout the ages, and this is one of the signs that we will use to determine the identity of the ultimate leader—Moshiach.
 
When Maimonides codifies the qualifications for the Moshiach, the ultimate redeemer and leader of the Jewish people, he includes the rule that Moshiach must be a descendent of King David. Not only does the Moshiach have to be an actual descendant of King David—and hence from Judah —he must also inherit the positive traits of his anscestors. Moshiach is a leader who devotes his whole life, and is prepared to sacrifice everything, for even one individual who is in need.
 
But, the Ba'al Shem Tov taught that every one of us possesses a spark of Moshiach. In the process of Redemption through Moshiach, it is crucial that we all awaken this spark that will propel us to work for the benefit of even one individual, even when it is at the expense of our own ego and reputation.
 

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