Friday, March 14, 2008

The Far Side...

...might also be interpreted as the side less traveled. After all, it is far away...aaaaall the way on the other side...and really, who wants to expend the energy it would take to see what there is "over there" much better can it be than what we have right here?

Luckily the One Above has seen fit to ensure that there are always people willing to make the journey to The Far Side and report back to us those beneficial things that can be obtained by sometimes following the road less traveled.

Rabbi Y. Frand, in my opinion, is often such an individual (yes, I'm biased...too bad), let's see what he has to say on parshas Vayikra...from an angle most in his sphere would not take:

In this week's parsha, we learn about the laws concerning the situation "When a ruler sins (asher nasi yechtah), and commits one from among all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done - unintentionally - and becomes guilty." [Vayikra 4:22]

אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא, יֶחֱטָא; וְעָשָׂה אַחַת מִכָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תֵעָשֶׂינָה, בִּשְׁגָגָה--וְאָשֵׁם

Rashi comments on the peculiar expression "asher nasi yechtah" which literally means "THAT the prince sinned." The more common usage throughout the parsha is "v'im" (AND IF). Rashi explains that the word "asher" comes from the same root as "ashrei" (meaning fortunate) as if to say "Fortunate is the generation whose ruler sets his heart to bring an atonement for his unintentional sin." There are a variety of comments recorded by later commentaries on the intent of this statement by Rashi.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in his sefer Oznayim L'Torah suggests that aveyros [sins] come about as a result of new initiatives. A person will normally not commit an averah when he sticks to the straight and narrow, merely repeating that which has been done in the past without attempting new approaches or enactments. Innovation and change sometimes leads to inadvertent mistakes. The pasuk [verse] is praising the Nasi [leader] who is willing to change and to try something new. Even though such boldness can sometimes lead to inadvertent error, the generation is fortunate to have a leader who is at least willing to try.

Rav Dovid Feinstein provides a different insight, which I believe may be closer to the simple interpretation (p'shat) of the pasuk. People in power are normally not inclined to admit that they did something wrong. A person in power is normally afraid of criticism and second guessing by his opponents. He is very leery to publicly admit, "Guess what? I goofed!"

How many times have we heard the President of the United States - any President of the United States - admit, "I have made a mistake." The few times when a president does admit to a mistake, he gets lambasted by the press and all his political adversaries. Rare is the public leader who is prepared to stand up in front of his nation and admit to having made a mistake. Happy is the generation that has a leader who is not ashamed to admit that he erred. Fortunate are those led by one secure enough to admit that he is not perfect.

Rav Shimon Schwab explains the very same lesson in explanation of a very perplexing Gemara [Chagiga 14a]. The Gemara states that the prophet Yeshaya cursed the Jewish people with 18 different curses but his mind was not put at ease until he foretold the ultimate indignation: "The youngster will domineer over the elder and the base over the respectable" (lo niskarera da'ato ad) [Yeshaya 3:5].

יִרְהֲבוּ, הַנַּעַר בַּזָּקֵן, וְהַנִּקְלֶה, בַּנִּכְבָּד...

What is the meaning of this Gemara? Did Yeshaya the prophet hate the Jewish people so much that he said, "I'm going to really give it to them and I won't rest until I give them the ultimate punishment"? Obviously not! That is not the role of a prophet. The role of a prophet is not to beat up the people or to indict them.

Rav Schwab explained that this Gemara is teaching the very same lesson as the pasuk quoted above from Parshas Vayikra as elaborated by Rashi. This final 'curse' actually includes a positive and optimistic message. When the children will point out the foibles of the elders - and perhaps the children were out of line for having such brazenness - but when their criticism will prompt the elders to respond, take stock, and admit that they in fact did make some errors, that is positive. That is in fact what appeased the mind of the prophet Yeshaya. In spite of the fact that the criticism was perhaps not offered with the proper derech eretz (manners and protocol), but the leaders were big enough that they could take the criticism and react with corrective action. That is the hallmark of a fortunate generation. It was this good fortune of the Jewish people that put the Prophet's mind at ease.

--Do I really need to lay out this weeks connection to Sir Gary, a man who defined the idea of taking the road less traveled...honestly(!), the man walked roads not existence yet: