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לימוד תורה

Circles of Loyalty - The way of the faithful shepherd

The Parasha in our everyday life – Va’erah 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Rosh Yeshivat Hesder 'Meir Harel' Modi'in.

Dedicated in memory of a leading Rabbi of the religious Zionism, Talmid Chacham, a man of virtue, a guide for many, loyal to his all-Israeli mission, my dear friend, the late Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzky, on his Yortzait.

How many times have you heard lately statements like: "I felt I should be loyal to myself and my feelings and therefore ..." They usually come as an explanation for giving up other loyalties: loyalty to marital commitment, loyalty to family commitment, or loyalty to society. Such a statement expects understanding from the listeners, since it is based on the assumption that in the scale of values accepted today in the Western world, 'loyalty to myself' and 'my feelings' stands above all other loyalties.

Man belongs to several circles of commitment and loyalty at the same time: to his G-d, his values and beliefs, to himself - and his good feeling with himself, his family – to his spouse - to the pact made between the couple, children and other family members, their physical and mental well-being and prosperity. To his position - in his field of occupation, to the general public - to the people of Israel, to the State, its existence and security.

He must guide his way so that he remains faithful to all circles. But when and if life summons dilemmas and real tension between these, he must decide between them. On the contrary, the real test of loyalty is not when the circles of loyalty are synchronized with each other in harmony but when a contradiction is created between them. Is loyalty still maintained in times of difficulty and challenge and when there are no ‘levers’ to enforce it?

Is it morally possible to accept that whenever a contradiction and challenge arises, loyalty to myself and my feelings are above all?!

A striking example, which is part of our life: combat service in the IDF. Not only do we abide by the law of the state, but by the moral, ethical comprehension that one must serve out of loyalty and commitment to society - to Am Israel, the country, its existence and security.

When we are forced to risk our lives in battle, to get up in the face of danger, do we then put loyalty to myself and my feelings above all?!

So too the medical staff in the Covid and other infectious diseases’ wards, or the settlers who have settled the country in Judea and Samaria, since the early days of Zionism and pioneering. Or when engaging in other vital national missions at the expense of personal benefits, and more.

Judaism emphasizes the value of loyalty. It does not ignore, G-d forbid, a person's loyalty to himself and his own feelings, but it does not place it above the other loyalties. Judaism sees life as having self-worth however at its core there is a loyalty to the mission and values, to what is above life. It is not for nothing that the answer to a blessing is 'Amen'!

אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: כָּל הָעוֹנֶה ״אָמֵן״ בְּכׇל כֹּחוֹ פּוֹתְחִין לוֹ שַׁעֲרֵי גַן עֵדֶן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״פִּתְחוּ שְׁעָרִים וְיָבֹא גוֹי צַדִּיק שׁוֹמֵר אֱמוּנִים״, אַל תִּיקְרֵי ״שׁוֹמֵר אֱמוּנִים״ אֶלָּא: ״שֶׁאוֹמְרִים אָמֵן״. מַאי ״אָמֵן״? אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא: ״אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן״.

“Reish Lakish said: One who answers amen with all his strength, they open the gates of the Garden of Eden before him, as it is stated: “Open the gates, and a righteous nation shall come who keeps the faith”. Do not read: Who keeps [shomer] the faith [emunim], but rather: Who say [she’omerim] amen. What is the allusion of the word amen? Rabbi Ḥanina said: It is an acronym of the words: G-d, faithful King [El Melech Ne’eman].” (Shabbat 119b)

Hashem is called “G-d, faithful King [El Melech Ne’eman]”

וְיָ֣דַעְתָּ֔ כִּֽי ה' אֱלֹקיךָ ה֣וּא הָֽאֱלֹקים הָאֵל֙ הַֽנֶּאֱמָ֔ן שֹׁמֵ֧ר הַבְּרִ֣ית וְהַחֶ֗סֶד לְאֹהֲבָ֛יו וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֺתָ֖ו לְאֶ֥לֶף דּֽוֹר׃

"Know, therefore, that only Hashem your G-d is G-d, the steadfast G-d who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments "(Devarim 7:9).

And we too must copy the degree of Divine 'loyalty'. This is why in Hebrew, לשון הקודש, unlike Western languages, there is a common root in the words 'loyalty' נאמנות, 'trust' אמון ‘credibility' אמינות  and 'faith' אמונה .

And he who does not fulfill his obligations, in business, is called     מחוסר אמנה “an act of bad faith". (Bava Metzia 49a), and

לֹא חָרְבָה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁפָּסְקוּ מִמֶּנָּה אַנְשֵׁי אֲמָנָה

Jerusalem was destroyed only because there were no more trustworthy people there” (Shabbat 119b)

And will build again when men of truth, and integrity return (Kol HaTor).

In our Parasha we learn from Moshe Rabbeinu: he was ‘Reaya Mehimana’' רעיא מהימנא' - a loyal shepherd. (Zohar Part I 106:1) - the faithful shepherd, loyalty and commitment to the nation and its fate even at heavy personal prices. When the bondage worsened Moshe Rabbeinu stood before G-d and cried out:

וַיָּ֧שׇׁב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶל ה' וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹ-נָ֗י לָמָ֤ה הֲרֵעֹ֙תָה֙ לָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה שְׁלַחְתָּֽנִי׃

"Then Moshe returned to Hashem and said, “O Lo-rd, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? " (Shmot 5:22).

וְאִם תֹּאמַר מָה אִכְפַּת לְךָ? קוֹבֵל אֲנִי עַל שֶׁשְּׁלַחְתַּנִי

And if You ask, “What concern is that of yours?” I answer “I have to complain that You have sent me at all” (Rashi ibid)

As the leader, he is loyal to his role and commitment to the people, and identifies with their pain as someone who represents his congregation in complete loyalty without any trace of personal interest.

He says harsh things towards G-d.

הִרְהַרְתָּ עַל מִדּוֹתַי…

“You have criticized My methods of guiding the world”. (Rashi ibid 6:1) And even gave his life for them in the Sin of the Calf. G-d testifies to his faithfulness:

לֹא־כֵ֖ן עַבְדִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה בְּכׇל־בֵּיתִ֖י נֶאֱמָ֥ן הֽוּא׃

Not so with My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household.” (Bamidbar 12:7)

His loyalty surpassed all criteria:

ולא שייך לומר נאמן אלא על מי שיש בידו לעשות ואינו עושה…

“And it is not appropriate to say faithful but about one who can do and does not do…” (Haamek Davar ibid)

Moshe continued to lead the people faithfully even when they were against him, hard on him, challenged him, and were ungrateful. The 'faithful shepherd' did not abandon the ship during a crisis to 'make his home', and fought for his people.

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