Parshas Beshalach!!!

Dear Family and Friends,

I was looking over what I wrote for the past two years on this Parshah and I have written about “As Yashir” and the dancing woman. So taking a little bit of a different direction this time….
The Jewish people arrive at the sea. They are trapped. The Egyptians are chasing them from behind and the sea is ahead. There is no where to go. After years of slavery and suffering, they are now in the desert left to die. The people start to panic and Moshe starts to pray to G-d. Yet, a new leader here emerges: Nachshon Ben Aminadav.  He was introduced in the Torah as Aaron’s brother in law and he later becomes the prince of the tribe of Yehuda. 
At this moment, Nachshon acts. Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea and the Jews had to prove their loyalty by walking into the water. The Midrash explains that the people were all fighting who should go first into the water. Nachshon was the first to obey Moshe’s command, he walks into the water until it was at his neck and then the sea splits. The Midrash enumerates the rewards that Nachshon’s brave deed earned him:
– He was given the name Nachshon, since he jumped into the waves(nachshol) of the sea.
– Five heroes of Israel were among his descendants: David, Daniel,Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
– The eternal kingdom of Israel was given to his tribe, Judah, and it follows that Moshiach will be his descendant as well.
Nachshon’s act of bravery here is great because in the midst of confusion, Nachshon takes action. He does not wait rather he understood that G-d will split the sea, but action on our part is needed. He does not hesitate, but takes a leap of faith and walks into the water. This was the faith that G-d wanted to see. 
Nachshon Ben Aminadav is remembered as role model in believing in an idea and taking the first step forward. It is his actions here that allowed for the great miracle of the splitting of the sea. Nachshon was a leader and he inspired us forever for his leadership in this moment.
Have a beautiful and inspirational Shabbas and may Hashem give us the strength to take a leap of faith when needed and May all our leaps be rewarded. 
– Michal
ps. I might be taking a little break soon from my weekly Dvar Torah’s. I will try to have someone fill in though! ( anyone who is interested in writing…please contact me!) 

Parshas Vayigash!!

Dear Friends and Family,

I am reading a great book called “Tribes” by Seth Godin. It is about leadership and the concepts of a tribe. He explains that what stops people from being great is the fear of failure. He goes further to suggest that it is not just fear, but that people are afraid to take criticism or blame. Sadly, the fear of making a mistake and being criticized is so great that it stops one from reaching his potential. When I read this, I thought it was brilliant and describes the millennial so well. (read the book – it’s great….) Lord Jonathan Sacks brings out this idea of leadership in this week’s Parshah.
Lord Sacks explains that after the last couple of weeks, discussing Yosef’s leadership capabilities, this week an unlikely leader emerges onto the scene, Yehuda.  This is the same man who proposed selling Yosef as a slave, who then separated from his brothers, living among the Canaanites, intermarried with them, lost two of his sons because of sin and having sexual relations with a woman he takes to be a prostitute and we wonder how can leadership is explelified by Yehuda. 
In last week’s Parshah, the family is in a bind. They need more food and without bring down Binyamin, they will not be able to get more. Yaacov does not want to give up Binyamin and so Reuven proposes something radical: “Kill my two sons if I do not bring Binyamin back safely.” It was then Yehuda who with quiet authority – “I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him” – persuaded Yaacov to let Binyamin go with them.
Now in Egypt the nightmare scenario has unfolded. Binyamin has been found “stealing” Yosef’s cup and is to be held as a slave. The other brothers can go free. At this point Yehuda steps forward and makes a speech that changes history. He speaks eloquently about their father’s grief at the loss of one of Rachel’s sons. If he loses the other he will die of grief. I, says Yehuda, personally guaranteed his safe return. 

Full teshuva (repentance) is the ability to be in the same situation to repeat an earlier sin but who does not do so because he is now a changedperson. Right here we see Yehuda’s teshuva ( repentance) because it was his suggestion to sell Yosef as a slave and now when faced with the same situation of leaving Binyamin as a slave, he says, “Let me stay as a slave and let my brother go free.” That is perfect repentance, and it is what allows Yoseph to reveal his identity and forgive his brothers.

The Torah had already hinted at the change in Yehuda’s character. Having accused his daughter-in-law Tamar of becoming pregnant by a forbidden sexual relationship, he is confronted by her with evidence that he himself is the father of the child and immediately admits: “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38: 26). This is the first time in the Torah we see a character admit that he is wrong and from this union descended King David. 

Leaders make mistakes. Leaders are also human and they make mistakes that have nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with human weakness and temptation. What matters is that you repent, you recognize and admit your wrong, and you change as a result. 

Going back to the book, instead of being afraid of making mistakes, we must understand that we will make mistakes and take responsibility for our actions, hear criticism and after move forward as a stronger person. In Lord Saks beautiful words “A leader is one who, though he may stumble and fall, arises more honest, humble and courageous than he was before.”

Have a beautiful and uplifting Shabbas! May we always have the courage to overcome our fears and stand up as leaders. 

Parshas Lech Lecha

October 11, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been a while, but I am back! I love Parshas Lech Lecha. It is the story of Avraham, a trailblazer, a leader in his time and the father of many future nations (Av – Hamon – Goyim). Avraham is known for ability to pass the 10 tests in his life and also for his kindness and his outreach. This week the Jewish Nation lost one of the greatest Jewish Leaders of the past 50 years, Rav Ovadia Yosef was a brilliant Torah (Bible) and Halachic (Jewish Law) Scholar, Chief Sephardic Rabbi in Israel and he started his own political party. It is not just that the Sephardic world lost their Posek, but the whole Jewish world lost a leader and a trailblazer. This was shown by the over half a million people who came to his funeral.

The Parshah (Weekly Portion) starts out G-d appearing to Avraham and giving him the commandment and test of leaving behind his family and life in Charan to travel to an unknown land of which G-d will show him the way. I read an amazing Dvar Torah this week by Rabbi Jonathan Saks who explains this topic beautifully. Rabbi Saks says that what sets a true leader apart is his ability to not conform. Most people in the world do conform. G-d is saying “Leave your land” People adopt the standards and absorb the culture of the time and place in which they live. G-d deepens the test to “leave your birthplace”, people are influenced by friends and neighbors. To take it one step further, G-d says ”Leave your father’s house”  because more deeply people still they are shaped by their parents and the family in which they grew up.

God is saying here to Abraham, I want you to be different. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of starting something new: a religion that will not worship power and the symbols of power. I want you, said God, to “teach your children and your household afterward to follow the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.”

Abraham is without doubt the most influential person who ever lived. Today he is claimed as the spiritual ancestor of 2.4 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims and 13 million Jews, more than half the people alive today. Yet he ruled no empire, commanded no great army, performed no miracles and proclaimed no prophecy. He is the supreme example in all of history of influence without power.

Why? Because he was prepared to be different. As the sages say, he was called ha-ivri, “the Hebrew,” because “all the world was on one side (be-ever echad) and he was on the other.” Leadership, as every leader knows, can be lonely. Yet you continue to do what you have to do because you know that the majority is not always right and conventional wisdom is not always wise. Dead fish go with the flow. Live fish swim against the current.

Avraham instilled this quality into his future nations with his first test of Lech Lecha. He chose not to conform, but to follow his beliefs. This ability made him the father of the Jewish Nation. A nation that throughout the centuries have has survived no matter what.

Have a beautiful and uplifting Shabbas and May we always have the ability to like Avraham be true leaders and do what is right.

– Michal

ps. I am not saying that you have to leave your family to be a leader, ( because I love mine!)  but in order to lead you must do things because you know inside they are right, not just because everyone else around you tells you it is.