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YOU'RE MY HERO

by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"The leaders (nesi'im) brought the shoham stones and the stones for the settings for the Ephod and the Breastplate" (Exodus 35:27).

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"The leaders (nesi'im) brought the shoham stones and the stones for the settings for the Ephod and the Breastplate" (Exodus 35:27).

Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, cites a Midrash which notes that the Hebrew word nesiim, leaders, is spelled without the letter "yud" which it normally has. This defective spelling of their title is an implied rebuke of the leaders of Israel for not bringing their donations until everyone else had contributed to the Tabernacle building fund. The leaders thought to themselves that everyone would bring whatever they could, and they would cover the deficit. This lack of zeal in not quickly bringing their contribution to the Tabernacle is pointed out in the defective spelling of their title. Rashi states that the leaders learned their lesson, and that at the next opportunity they were the first to contribute to the cause.

Rashis explanation is quite difficult to understand. As anyone in the fundraising business will tell you, a donor that promises to cover the deficit is every campaign coordinators dream. What is wrong with the leaders saying that they will ensure the success of the Tabernacle fundraising effort by contributing whatever has not been donated by the rest of the people? Furthermore, the defective spelling in their title as leaders implies a fault in their leadership abilities. At worst, their delay in contributing to the Tabernacle reflects only a general laxity in performing this mitzvah and not a weakness in their leadership roles. Why then is the letter "yud" missing from their title as leaders?

The truth is that there are two types of leaders. Western society, which is very results-oriented, is mainly interested in a politician and leader who can get the job done. That explains how a president can act as immoral as he wants to and still enjoy a high approval rating due to a good economy. That is why our youth are idolizing sports stars and celebrities whose morals may leave a lot to be desired. It is not who you are that counts anymore; it is what you do for me. What the Torah is telling us here is that it is not the economy! Spiritual growth is not about results; it is about effort and perseverance. Our sages teach us that according to the pain and effort is the gain. The job of a Jewish leader is not merely to ensure that the job gets done. Rather, he should be the first one to contribute, thereby setting the tone and the example for others to follow. Covering the deficit might serve to complete the project, but it certainly does not help those who did not contribute at all. Had they exercised their leadership abilities properly, the leaders would have made sure to donate right away, causing a chain reaction among the people.

The lesson taught in the Torah here is mainly directed at the nesiim and other leaders of the Jewish people, but it applies to all of us as well. When we look for role models for ourselves and our children, we should realize that the most effective way to impact positively on another person is by personal example. That can only happen if our role models are people of impeccable moral credentials. If only our youth would look to their Torah leaders with the same admiration and adulation that they presently feel toward Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Chipper Jones, what a different world it would be!

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

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