Caring about people and issues is a very important character trait. As young boys, growing up in Hassidic homes in a Hassidic community, influenced and inspired by the personal example of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (of blessed memory), this virtuous trait of 'caring' became indelibly etched in our psyche.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement over 300 years ago, emphasized the importance of caring. This theme, repeated in successive Hassidic teachings and texts is predicated on the love of every Jew. It flows as wells from our responsibility for all of mankind, created in the image of God.
The Magid of Mezeritch, student and successor of the Baal Shem Tov, expressed his appreciation of his teacher's ahavas Yisroel by saying, 'halvai, if only we could kiss a sefer Torah with the same love that my Master kissed the children when he brought them to cheder as a teacher's assistant!'
The Jewish people, throughout our history, fortunately have been blessed with leaders who personified this trait of caring. When God taught Moshe Rabbeinu how to prepare the Jewish people to experience the revelation at Sinai of the Ten Commandments, which incorporated the entire Torah, the verse says (Exodus 19:14), 'Moses descended from the mountain, to the people.'
The penultimate Torah commentary Rashi explains the necessity of this verse. It would seem obvious at first glance that Moses would do as God told him to. So why make a point of stating the obvious?
Says Rashi: 'This teaches that Moses did not turn to his own affairs, but from the mount directly to the people.'
Moshe Rabbeinu could have spent some personal time to internalize his encounter with the Divine. Instead, he went directly to the Jews. He cared for them and they felt his caring, deep in their souls and they reciprocated. Despite the many times the Jews disputed Moses' directives and questioned his position as leader, they cared for him and ultimately could not countenance his leaving them.
When God commanded the Jews to form an army and battle with the nation of Midian, after which Moses would physically pass away, the Jews had to be forced to comply. As Rashi comments, 'The praiseworthiness of the Shepherds of Israel, how precious they are to Israel.'
I personally heard the following story from the Lubavitcher Rebbe at a farbrengen, a Hassidic gathering: between the world wars, the Polish government issued a disastrous decree against Jewish religious observance. A delegation of rabbis and lay leaders was organized to lobby the government to appeal the decree. The famous chofetz chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, was a moving force of this delegation. When they returned from Warsaw to the chofetz chaim, the delegates reported that their mission was not successful. The chofetz chaim asked, 'Hot ainer gechalisht?' ' did anyone faint when they realized that their appeal had been denied?
The Rebbe related this story passionately and connected it to issues facing the Jewish community. He inspired his listeners, both the rabbinic and lay leaders to feel and care to the extent of 'Hot ainer gechalisht.' That is, a real leader of the Jewish people must not sumply pursue policy. A real leader feels in his deepest heart the success or the failure of his policy in terms of how it affects the community as a whole.
We have experienced heart-wrenching events these last few months, here in our blessed country and in our Holy Land, eretz Yisrael. Regardless of our personal or political views ' witnessing thousands of our people being forcefully uprooted from theirs homes, synagogues and land they so fervently toiled for many years, let alone graves of their loved ones being removed from their burial sites, and all this being done by fellow Jews ' tears at the very core of our being.
Ari Shavit, a prominent Israeli writer, a left-of-center political journalist with whom I strongly disagree on many issues, and who supported the evacuation of Gush Katif, wrote, 'Gush Katif was a world of its own, a world of work and faith, of patriotic innocence and communal warmth; a world that touches the heart, that was established in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now as this world is being buried in the sand, Israel must sit shiva for it. For if the entire public does not know how to mourn the death of Gush Katif, its death will poison our lives.'
The morning when the forced evacuation began, I personally fasted a taanit sha'ot, a partial fast until midday. I am far from being a perfect person ' you can ask my dear wife Channie ' but what kept coming to my mind over and over were Elie Weisel's words to American Jewry after World War II: 'I understand that you could not do much to save European Jewry, but why did you make fancy weddings during the Shoah?'
On that fateful day, was I going to have my normal breakfast or my regular bagel at Noah's for lunch?
When the southern city of New Orleans was swept away and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, many so poor that they couldn't cope without outside help, are left homeless, leadership demands an effective, decisive, caring response from the loftiest position of leadership to the average citizen. In fact, the citizenry did respond in an exalted way. The leadership then belatedly followed.
At the beginning of this New Year 5766, when we renew our contract of commitment with Almighty God, may Hashem bless us all to enhance ourselves to greater sensitivity and caring toward our spouses, parents, children, friends, congregants and leaders. May we merit that this year be the year of our ultimate redemption. L'shana tova.