Weekly Torah Commentary – Shoftim August 20, 2015

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

In this week’s Torah lesson we read a fascinating instruction to the king.

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll before the levitical priests” (Deut. 17:18). The passage furthur instructs the king that he must “read it all the days of his life” so that he will be God-fearing and never break God’s commandments. But there is another reason also: so that he will “not begin to feel superior to his brethren” or as another translation puts it: “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers”.

In short: The king was required to have humility. The most powerful in the land should not feel himself to be the most powerful in the land.

To be sure the king is given other commandments and Solomon’s failures can be directly traced to the deterioration of the humility which he so beautifully exhibited at the beginning of his reign.

When any leader, religious or political, begins to feel that because he is ‘above’ the people he is also ‘above’ the law, that nation or group will soon have a tyrant or dictator at the helm. The Bible knows nothing of leadership without humility. Ultimately, the arrogance of power will produce its own downfall. It is inevitable and history proves it to be so.

The Torah’s insistence on humility is much more than an urging to “be nice”. Humility is essential to leadership. Maimonides, the great Jewish sage, commented as follows:
Just as the Torah grants him [the king] great honor and obliges everyone to respect him, so it commands him to be lowly and empty at heart, as it says: ‘My heart is empty within me’ (Ps. 109:22). Nor should he treat Israel with overbearing haughtiness, for it says, “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Deut. 17:20).

He should be gracious and merciful to the small and the great, involving himself in their good and welfare. He should protect the honor of even the humblest of men. When he speaks to the people as a community, he should speak gently, as it says, “Listen my brothers and my people….” (1 Chronicles 28:2), and similarly, “If today you will be a servant to these people…” (1 Kings 12:7).

He should always conduct himself with great humility. There was none greater than Moses, our teacher. Yet he said: “What are we? Your complaints are not against us” (Ex. 16:8). He should bear the nation’s difficulties, burdens, complaints and anger as a nurse carries an infant. (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)

The Torah model of God-fearing leadership is Moses who is described as “very humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

Moses was hardly meek, timid or bashful. Rather Moses refused to ‘lord it over’ the people. He honored those under his charge, considered them important and pleaded with God on their behalf. Humility doesn’t mean demeaning yourself; it means properly honoring others. We read in the Ethics of the Fathers: “Who is honored? One who honors others.” Pirkei Avot 4:1

God’s love and care extends to all, regardless of rank or position. We, and especially a leader, must do likewise.

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said: “The greatest source of sin is to forget we are children of the king.” We are all members of a royal family and must act as if we are. And the mark of true royalty is humility.

In Tune with Torah this week = examining our own attitude toward others whether we are leaders or not. Do we readily honor and respect other people? Even when their opinions differ from ours? The humble are more concerned with giving honor to others than receiving it for themselves. True greatness is manifest by humility.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Shoftim August 9, 2013

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
“Who is the man who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows to be like his heart.”

In this week’s portion the Torah commands anyone who is afraid of going to war to leave the battlefield and return to his home because of the negative influence that his fear will have on his fellow soldiers. The Sages derive from this that the basic meaning of this mitzvah is that we are to be very careful to avoid acting in any way that will have a negative influence on others.

Our actions do not take place in a vacuum. We are always being noticed by others, consequently it is our responsibility to constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them. Remember the old adage, Actions speak louder than words? When we strive to have a positive effect on our fellowman through our behavior, we become an example that inspires. And when others grow spiritually because of that example, we share in their blessing in Olam Haba (the world to come). Rav Aaron Kotler notes that one who causes others to perform Mitzvot receives incredible reward for his deeds. “one can not imagine the great gain a person receives through this; he merits extra heavenly protection to not stumble in sin and also to a great number of merits, something which would have been impossible for him to achieve through his own free will.”

The greatest way we influence others is through loving them. We make the most important decisions of our lives based on who and what we love. What we might consider as a carefully thought out, logical major decision is never without its emotional aspect for we are emotional beings. Love changes the dynamic of our interactions with others.

Perhaps the second most important way we influence others for good is by listening to them. When we listen attentively, our behavior says to the other person, “I respect you. I care about you.” That, in turn, opens them up to receiving from us, whether in the form of a spoken encouragement or advice or by the example of how we live.

According to Dictionary.com, the word INFLUENCE when used as a noun is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” INFLUENCE as a verb is “To move or impel (a person) to some action.”

So how do we improve in being a positive influence on others and refrain from being a negative one, as we read in this week’s parsha?

First of all, every person has influence on the lives of those around them. Whether our impact is direct or indirect, it behooves us to realize that no one acts in a vacuum. We are continually influencing those around us one way or another.

Secondly, exemplify personal responsibility and integrity. Be true to your word, be consistent. Be real and be honest. Be faithful to your values.

Thirdly, don’t pretend you’re perfect; you’re not. Take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. Don’t make excuses; make corrections. Others will respect you for it.

Fourthly, appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around you and thank them. We all want to be valued and appreciated. Your endorsement also has a ripple effect when a good deed or accomplishment is acknowledged publicly.

Fifthly, work at bringing out the best in others. Let your influence act as a catalyst to spark something within someone else. How many hundreds of accomplished people have noted that a certain teacher or a grandmother or a parent inspired them as a child or a teenager and they give credit to that influence for achievements in later life!

Lastly, care about other people’s feelings. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Influence only qualifies as leadership when you are more concerned with someone else reaching their potential than you are about how their work or action will affect you.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this first Shabbat of the month of Elul, there could not be a more appropriate issue to consider than this one. What kind of influence have I been on others during the past year? What can I do to have a more positive and uplifting influence on those around me in the new year to come?

Shabbat Shalom