Positive Vision - Day 52
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 52 - Positive Chutzpah - Doing What Is Right
Our society has been labeled by some a “victim culture,” in which the greatest claim to fame is to have suffered some indignity or injustice. Discrimination, poverty, rich- but-absent parents, mental and physical abuse, over-employment, unemployment, old age, and hundreds if not thousands of other bad draws from the deck of life give many people the only reason they need for doing less with their lives than they should.
But in the berachah many of us give our children each Friday night, we take just the opposite point of view. We bless our daughters that they emulate their Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah, and we bless our sons that they should be like Menashe and Ephraim. Why do we choose these role models?
The Imahos are an obvious choice since they embody the most exemplary traits of a Jewish woman, but why Menashe and Ephraim for the sons? How are they parallel to the Imahos?
The answer is that each of these ancestors rose to spiritual greatness in unholy surroundings. All four matriarchs were raised by idol-worshipers, and Menashe and Ephraim were raised in Egypt. As the sons of Yosef, second-in-command to Pharaoh, they were undoubtedly surrounded by all the immorality of Egyptian culture.
In our current society, there would be no expectation of any of these men or women becoming tzaddikim. Yet, they all not only overcame the challenges they faced, but flourished and brought the world their immeasurable gifts.
In the same vein, Maharshal 1 explains why a person who himself possesses a fine character but whose ancestors did not, may serve as a shaliach tzibbur (chazzan). Some wished to say otherwise based on the statement: “The prayers of a tzaddik the son of a tzaddik are incomparable to those of a tzaddik the son of a rasha.”
Maharshal explains, however, that this is true only for personal prayers, where the merits of one’s ancestor advance his descendant’s needs. But as regards public prayers, “On the contrary, the prayers of one who left his parents’ path and chose on his own to follow the way of Hashem are even more valuable!” The courage it takes to break the mold and do what one believes is correct is inestimable, and his prayers are even more powerful.
This trait, to do what one believes in, even though it is contrary to the prevailing environment and trends, is, in fact, a uniquely Jewish trait - chutzpah.
It is often associated with the Torah’s reference to Klal Yisrael as being an “am keshei oref,” a stiff-necked people, people who stubbornly live according to their standards and march to their own drummer. It certainly has been the source of our transgressions but it is also the source of our power. It may very well be the driving force behind the innovations through which the State of Israel has become known as “The Start-up Nation,” but much more importantly, it empowers Klal Yisrael to buck social trends of decadence and live according to the dictates of kedushah.
So we bless our children: Whatever may come your way, you, like your ancestors, will not only survive, but shine, and bring something special and holy into the world.
We may live in an era of great tumah, but do not despair. You can still reach greatness - it’s in our DNA. It is maaseh avos siman labanim.