Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha:Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35)Intoxicated or Pain Related?

This week we read about the tragic incident of the Golden Calf. When Moses descended with the tablets, he encountered Joshua, who had heard the voice of the people rejoicing (over the Golden Calf). He commented to Moses, “Battle sounds are heard in the camp.” And (Moses) said, “It is not the sound of strength (a song of victory) nor is it the sound of weakness (a song of defeat), I hear a sound of distress.” (Exodus 32:17-18)The Jerusalem Talmud remarks that when Moses heard Joshua’s inaccurate assessment of the uproar, he commented that if Joshua didn’t know the difference between a battle cry and a noise of distress, how, in the future, would he be able to lead the Jewish people?   It seems harsh for Moses to challenge Joshua’s leadership abilities merely because he had incorrectly interpreted the noises he had heard; what connection is there between leadership abilities and being able to distinguish noises?The answer lays in a deeper understanding of Joshua’s perception of the sounds he heard. He knew that these weren’t mere battle cries, and thought they were sounds of partying and intoxication. The battle, Joshua thought, was one of rebellion against G-d. The people were partying because they didn’t feel the need to listen to G-d or to the values He was imparting; they had built an idol in rebellion. This is analogous to the behavior of a college freshman who, for the first time in his life, is living away without parents telling him what to do.  There’s much drinking and partying, and rejoicing at this seemingly newfound freedom.But Moses interpreted the noises differently; they were sounds of distress.  Although the people might have been in a drunken, partying mode, the sound wasn’t the result of a war of rebellion, Moses understood that it was the cry of a broken heart.  It’s the intoxication of a people who think they have been abandoned by their leader and left in a bleak wilderness. Moses hadn’t returned from the mountain when he was supposed to (according to their calculation) and they felt abandoned and rejected. Desperation caused them to drink away their troubles.  When a meaningful relationship is broken, one side might get so sad and depressed that (s)he drinks and is seemingly merry but actually (s)he is just trying to forget the pain of rejection. So, too, the Jewish people thought their unique teacher, Moses, the one would teach them G-d’s instruction book for good living, had rejected them; this is why they were drinking.Moses rebuked Joshua and ultimately taught him and us an important lesson about leadership.  A leader must be able to distinguish between people who misbehave out of rebellion and get intoxicated due to arrogance as opposed to the lost souls who misbehave out of hurt and anguish.   A leader needs to look at his flock and find out what pains them because when we are in pain, we have the ability to regret our actions. People don’t necessarily want to rebel; they might have simply used poor judgment when reacting to a difficult circumstance.  When people are difficult or adverse, a true leader possesses the ability to find pain and not just reject inappropriate behavior with condemnation. Each of us is considered a leader in our own lives. We regularly encounter people who offend or hurt us. Whether it’s a friend, spouse, child, or coworker, we must learn to realize that most people are acting inappropriately because of their pain or challenging life circumstance; we should not reject them. Rather, to the best of our ability, we should feel their pain and work to reestablish the relationship. The following story captures this idea. It took place in Jerusalem about 75 years ago when poverty was rampant.A man once came to the free loan society office to request a loan. The director, a venerated member of the community, told him that he had just paid back a loan and the policy was that a person had to wait at least a month before taking another loan. The person told him he needed the money badly but the stood firm and explained that it wouldn’t be fair to the other residents of the city who also needed loans. Voices were raised and the man finally slapped the director across the face. Instead of throwing the man out, he told him to wait; a few minutes later he returned with the requested sum. The man thanked him and as soon as he left those present asked why the director hadn’t bodily thrown the man out. He replied, “I know him well and have never seen him act in such a manner. I reasoned that his family situation must really be desperate if he acted in such unbecoming behavior. I decided that it was an emergency and therefore I gave him the money.”Sensitivity for the pain of others is not just a trait for righteous people; it’s a trait for every Jew. Every one of us is a leader in some way. Whether it’s a city, corporation, family, or just our own lives we need to learn leadership from our illustrious ancestors. Although distressing external actions can sometimes be a nuisance for us, we must never forget that the doer of these unfortunate deeds might be in pain and with sensitivity we can sometimes relieve that pain. Good Shabbos
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Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center