From Top to Bottom

Parshas Nitzavim

In Moshe’s closing speech, he enumerates different tiers within the nation, following a hierarchal order: “Your: Heads, Tribes, Elders, Officers and all the men of Israel”.

Rashi capitalizes on the seeming redundancy, for after having first listed “your tribes” it is no longer necessary to articulate “all the men of Israel”. Therefore, comments Rashi, “your tribes” should be understood together with the previous item thus rendering “the heads of your tribes”.


Rashi has answered the difficulty by telling us that the intention is the “heads of your tribes”, but why does the Torah convey this by writing “your heads, your tribes” when it really just wanted to communicate the heads of your tribes?


Many times leaders dictate from the top without having an appreciation of the trials and tribulations that the average man suffers. Particularly, people who are born into high society don’t understand the struggles of the masses; those who are born into wealth cannot fathom hunger and poverty. To be an effective and understanding leader it is necessary for him or her to understand the common folk – to be part of the tribe. Thus the head of your tribe should have a dual personality they should be the head and simultaneously part of the tribe. This doesn’t mean that they should denigrate or demean themselves; rather they should take the effort to understand and be conscious of the challenges that face their charges. Thus the Torah teaches us how to choose a tribal leader or in fact any position of authority.


Try to receive advice and direction from someone who understands you.


Rabbi Elya Chaim of Lodz (1821-1912) was often involved in raising money for worthy causes. During one especially harsh winter the price of firewood rose dramatically. Rabbi Elya Chaim visited wealthy homes to collect money with which to heat the homes of the poor.
When he approached Kalman Poznanski, the most prosperous man in the city, Kalman met him at the door. “Welcome, honored Rabbi. Please, come in.”
Rabbi Elya Chaim proceeded to discuss a variety of matters with Kalman, not budging from the doorstep. Kalman was freezing, but did not want to interrupt his respected visitor to reiterate his invitation. Things continued in the same vein for some time, until Kalman’s teeth began to chatter and his hands turned numb.
“Please, honored Rabbi” he ventured “I am freezing. Can we discuss this inside my home, before the fire?”
“Now,” said Rabbi Elya Chaim, still remaining on the threshold “I will tell you why I have come. The high price of firewood has made it impossible for the poor of our city to heat their homes. They are freezing, Kalman. I have come to ask you to contribute to a fund to secure kindling for these homes.”
Poznanski gladly, unhesitatingly, gave a large sum to this deserving endeavor. Rabbi Elya Chaim then entered Kalman’s home and both sat on the cozy couches in the warm living room.
“Excuse me, Rabbi” began Reb Kalman, no longer able to stifle his curiosity “Why did you remain outside for so long? Firstly it does not seem fitting for a Rabbi to stand on the doorstep. Secondly we were standing in the cold unnecessarily.”
“It was the most practical course” responded Reb Elya Chaim. “There is a popular aphorism ‘a person who is satiated cannot fathom the suffering of one who is hungry’. I came to impress upon you the tribulations of those who have no wood with which to warm their homes. This was best done by letting you feel, for a time, the cold they encounter daily. Had I tried to explain their plight to you, sitting here comfortably, the gravity of the situation would have remained hidden to you. Therefore, I kept you in the cold at the door first, to allow you this chance to fully grasp the severity of their situation.

Weekly Halachah

When the weather is severely cold, a gentile may be instructed to kindle a fire or turn up the heat (Shulchan Aruch 276:5).

For “Selichos: Actions Speak Louder Than Words” Click Here


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