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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Ki Sisa

Take the Initiative

And the Lord said to Moshe, "Go, descend; because your people, whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, have become corrupt."
(SHEMOS 32:7)

Once a father had to hospitalize his very ill son in London. The father came to Rabbi Yechezkel Avramsky, the head of the London beis din, and asked him to write a letter that would help him deal successfully with the doctors in the hospital. Rabbi Yechezkel recalled that one of the local rabbis had a great deal of influence in the hospital. He therefore sat down to write a letter to him.

He began the letter with the Hebrew salutation, "Kevod Harav" which means, "Honorable Rabbi." But then he remembered that this rabbi was not so well regarded by the Torah scholars, due to some of his actions and ideas. How could he call him "Rav", when he did not deserve such a revered title? He could not begin the letter with any other title, since the man would be insulted and would most likely refuse to do the favor asked of him. Rabbi Yechezkel pondered the matter but could not figure out what to do. Although he wanted to help the father, he did not want to sway from the truth.

As always when he was in doubt, he began praying to G-d to give him good advice. Suddenly he came up with a solution. He would write the letter in English, where he could open with the words "Dear Rabbi." This title fits even those who do not deserve the title "Rav" and this would solve the problem.

Rather than giving up once he saw an obstacle, Rab Avramsky took it upon himself to find the solution to the problem of how to help the man, while not compromising the truth. In marriage we must also take the initiative to solve problems that arise.

And G-d spoke to Moshe, "Go descend."1 G-d said to Moshe, "Descend from your greatness. The only reason I gave you greatness is for the sake of Israel. Now that Israel has sinned, why should you have greatness?" Immediately Moshe's strength was diminished. But when G-d said, "Let Me go and I will destroy them,"2Moshe immediately said, "The whole matter is dependent on me." He immediately stood up and strengthened himself by praying.

To what is this comparable? To a man who became angry at his son and hit him with a strong blow. The son's friend was sitting there watching, but was afraid to interfere. The father said, "If your friend was not here now, I would have killed you." Once the friend heard that, he said, "Since the matter is dependent on me, I shall stand up and save him." And so he stood up and saved him.
(YALKUT 391, par. Vayedaber, BERACHOS 32a)

How can we understand that all of Moshe's greatness stemmed from Israel, when it seems obvious that he was a great person in his own right? Why should Moshe be punished because of the sins of Israel? If G-d wanted Moshe to pray for the Jewish people, why did G-d not tell him outright, instead of only hinting at the fact? Why is the parable brought down and what can we learn from it?

The "greatness" referred to in the words of our Sages really refers to the honor and status of being a leader. This greatness was given to Moshe for the sole purpose of guiding the Jewish people. The moment the Jewish people sinned and were being judged as to whether or not they should be banished, Moshe's honor and leadership became diminished. Therefore, our Sages say that his strength was lessened, referring to the fact that a leader without a nation has no power whatsoever.

Since we see that the moment the Jews transgressed they lost their leader, we can learn from this that Israel's purpose in the world is to serve G-d. Their decline was directly connected to their failure to perform G-d's will, so we see they are measured according to this criterion. This is also stated in the verse which says, "This day you have become a nation." 3 This refers to the day that G-d's laws were given in the form of the Torah. We became a nation on that day because that was the time of the Jewish people's greatest commitment to G-d's laws. It is not said of any other event in Jewish history that we became a nation on that day, neither the day we conquered the land of Israel nor even the day we left Egypt. The nation is defined by its closeness to G-d which is in turn defined by the degree to which the nation follows G-d's laws.

Another possible explanation of why Moshe had to descend from his greatness is that the greatness of a leader stems from his purpose. Once a person decides that he wishes to devote his life to helping the Jewish nation, G-d bestows on him powers that he did not have before. This help from Heaven is given to those courageous enough to accept such a difficult task. So then, why should Moshe be punished because of the sins of Israel? The answer is that Moshe was not punished, but rather the reality of a leader is that he derives his power from the successful leadership of the people, and when they fail, so does he.

If G-d wanted Moshe to pray for the Jewish people, why did He not tell him to do so outright? Instead this was only conveyed through a hint. The answer is, that in this way it became possible for Moshe to receive a much greater reward. He was not only rewarded for his prayers, but also for his initiative. our Sages say, "G-d wanted to give Israel a zechus, therefore He multiplied the mitzvos for them." 4 The more mitzvos a person does, the more merit he receives in Heaven, and also the more he is purified. Therefore, because Moshe was not told to pray for the Jewish people directly, G-d made him eligible to receive an additional reward for acting on his own initiative.

This teaches us that we must constantly take the initiative to do mitzvos over and above what we are explicitly commanded to do. Taking initiative is dear to G-d, since it shows that we really care and are not acting like robots that simply do whatever they are told. Another reason Moshe had to take the initiative to pray is because prayer is different from other mitzvos in the respect that it is entirely dependent on a person's heart. It is not like shaking a lulav or keeping Shabbos, where the major part of the mitzvah consists in actions. Praying is all from the heart as our Sages tell us, "Prayer without meaning [kavannah] is like a body without a soul." Therefore the proper way to get Moshe to pray, was on his own Initiative, since that is the way to insure that it would come from his heart and would not merely be prayer by rote. Of course, because of Moshe's greatness, he would have prayed with great emotion an sincerity even if he had been told to pray; but the lesson for us is that the impetus to pray must come from our heart Only in this way, if we initiate prayer, can we really succeed in praying with the proper intention.

Why was this particular parable brought down and what can we learn from it? The parable teaches us that the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is like that of a father andson. Does a father really need intervention from other people not to kill his own son? Of course not. There is no greater mercy than that of a father for his son. Our Sages derive this idea from the Torah in the matter of someone who tries to break into another person's house. Rashi tells us that a father cherishes his son and he certainly has no intention of taking his own son's life, G-d forbid, or even of harming him.5 Therefore, it is clear that G-d did not really need Moshe's prayers to save the Jewish people, but rather He wanted to reward Moshe for saving them.

Moshe was rewarded for his initiative, and so, too, is every person who takes the initiative to improve his marriage. It is not enough to let things happen in their own way. One must take the initiative sometimes to refresh one's marriage and keep it alive.

Put New Life Into Your Marriage

Even though a new couple is full of excitement when they first get married, it is only natural that after a while things fall into a routine and might even become monotonous. Since you see your spouse every day, eat together every day, and always do the same things together, some boredom is likely to set in. Do not be alarmed by this. It happens to every couple. Try to find ways to refresh everything you do together. Even planning to do things differently will put a spark into your marriage.

Do not be afraid to discuss this or any problem that you have with your spouse. If your spouse asks if you are happy, do not be afraid to say how you feel. It is necessary to be truthful in order to solve any problem. In the above story, Rabbi Yechezkel did everything possible to avoid lying, even though it would have been an easy solution. An important aspect of marriage is to solve problems honestly together.

Think of something special that is not normally on your agenda, and suggest that you might do it with your spouse. Perhaps you could learn something together, or go out to a fancy restaurant, or go away for the weekend. Even if you are not sure if it is really a feasible plan just discussing the possibility of doing something different will interest you spouse and begin the process of revitalizing your marriage.

There is also room for surprises in marriage. You might com home with a gift, candy, or have flowers sent; you can d anything you know your spouse will like. A surprise has special flavor, since it is a way of showing that you took the initiative. It does not have to cost much, but should show that you care, because that is what really matters. Do not be afraid to try new things together. Go to a place you have never been to before. Learn together from a new an different book. When you enjoy new experiences together, it will make you even closer.

If you do new things together, you will begin to feel that this is not an old tired marriage, but rather one that has new possibilities. Being newly wed does not only mean that you have just gotten married. It can also mean that you are constantly renewing your married life with refreshing ideas and experiences.

The more effort we put into our marriages the stronger an more exciting they will become.

1. Shemos 32:7
2. Ibid. 32:10
3. Devarim 27:9
4. Makos 23b
5. Shemos 22:2, see Rasbi

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