By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
You have to feel bad for Mitt Romney.
He did everything right, working assiduously for half a decade, with scores of handlers, pollsters, wordsmiths, schedulers and volunteers behind him. His campaign is well-equipped and expertly managed, and he has looked on comfortably as a long stream of Republican candidate wannabes rose and then fell. Victory seemed inevitable for the well-spoken, immaculate former governor. All he was waiting for was the coronation, which would begin January 3rd in Iowa and culminate at the Republican National Convention in sweltering Tampa at the end of August.
But at the very last minute, just as he began to feel Iowa and New Hampshire victories fall into his lap and the nomination within touching distance, Romney was suddenly upended. By whom? The fellow derided by every single mainstream publication and pundit as unsuited for leadership, and by some as mean and vindictive. They gave him zero chance of winning anything, or climbing out of the single digits in poll popularity. Newt Gingrich’s rise happened so fast, and so unexpectedly, that the commentariat is tripping over itself in its haste to decry his personal shortcomings and lack of qualifications, reminding us all that he was driven out of his position as Speaker of the House.
How did this happen and what does it teach us?
It’s because Newt speaks, as they say, tzum zach, reaching over the heads of the media and addressing people in a straightforward and honest manner. In debate after debate, as the well-crafted statements of the others fall flat, his candid, unapologetic talk has reached the hearts of the American people. He demonstrates a keen understanding and brilliance, coupled with a man-of-the-street charming ability to say the plain truth in a way people can accept and relate to.
His meteoric rise stems from a rare ability to understand issues that confront America in a historic context. He grasps real problems and understands their repercussions, explaining and reacting to them in a way unmatched by his peers.
At the most recent debate, as he discussed his comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people,” he displayed a steely ability to say the truth and not be cowed by worries about how the intelligentsia will look at what he said, nor by what handlers will say or by whether it is politically correct. He just said the truth in a most intelligent fashion.
We know that the Palestinians are a fictitious people invented by the same Egyptian Arab, Yasser Arafat, who invented modern terror. It was and is an overblown myth bought into, hook, line and sinker, by a world that has no use for Jews. Careful staging and brilliant public relations brought on by repeated grizzly acts of terror created a feel of a genuine, oppressed people. Gingrich had the temerity to see through the smoke and mirrors, calling them what they are: fictitious.
His response in this instance reflects his approach. Unlike the others who crowd the Republican field, he doesn’t deliver canned, rehearsed, poll-tested responses to questions.
And strangely enough, Americans, it seems, have had enough of sound bites and phony politicians. Republicans, at least, have had enough of well-coiffed media darlings who speak empty words. They want a real person, who offers real solutions and is able to understand and explain the issues Americans face in their daily struggles.
That, it appears, is Newt Gingrich, and that is why he is emerging as the leader.
His rise to the top has relevance to us in our world, on many levels.
Our communities, and particularly the chinuch community and the mosdos haTorah, face a relentless stream of spiteful and petty attacks from haters and scoffers, who use their electronic and wooden podiums to spew traditional sinas am haaretz letalmid chochom.
A favorite accusation of theirs is that our world – our mosdos and their leaders – are out of touch. The attackers, sitting at computer screens and poking out angry diatribes, are in touch, apparently. The naysayers, protected by anonymity and the luxury of not being in decision-making positions themselves, are able to lob grenades at those who have dedicated their lives to impacting the world for good.
Today’s generation of mechanchim is comprised of leaders and heroes, who confront and address real issues in a real way. Their motive is to enhance what is good and true as they transmit our glorious heritage, way of life and Torah to the next generation.
This week, the Yated celebrates the publication of the 200th Chinuch Roundtable column. Two hundred weeks of real issues, being dealt with by real people, offering real solutions.
And getting real results.
Today, more and more, mechanchim represent the best and brightest of our world. They are men and women of high qualifications and accomplishments who have dedicated their lives to a job – a calling, actually – that requires more time than they have, along with tremendous stamina, yet is so short on financial compensation. The mosdos they lead are engaged in a constant search for more, always looking to be better and to meet the needs of additional children and families.
The dedicated and gifted members of the Chinuch Roundtable are mechanchim who are stopped by people they know, and those they don’t, at chasunos and in the grocery store, for advice and their opinion. Many of them carry the burdens not just of talmidim, but also of crushing budgets, and are left with little or no free time. They work long days and late nights. Our moderator tells me how so many of the responses to the weekly question arrive in the hours when most of the world is fast asleep.
Yet, they see a bigger picture.
It is the same picture that is played out in the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, which we are currently laining, as each of the avos attempts to pass on their Torah and knowledge of Hashem to the next generation.
There is a fascinating, if puzzling, exchange in the parsha we just read.
When Eisav confronted Yaakov after not seeing him for many years and observed his large family, he asked his brother, “Mi eileh loch? Who are these?”
Yaakov answered, “Hayelodim asher chonan Elokim ess avdecha – They are the children Hashem has graced me with.”
Rashi explains Eisav’s question as, “Mi eileh lihiyos shelcha? Who are they to be yours?”
What a strange question. If you see a man walking with women and children, isn’t it obvious that they are his family?
An explanation that is offered is that there was a perpetual battle between Yaakov and Eisav. Their difference of opinion, in fact, spanned the ages and exists today. Yaakov opted for the next world, for Olam Haba and nitzchiyus, while Eisav wanted Olam Hazeh, this world, the here and now.
The nachalas shnei olamos was forever divided. The epic divide between Yaakov and Eisav was formed when they negotiated over a bowl of lentils.
Yaakov wanted one world. Eisav desired the other. As an ish sadeh, Eisav wanted his field. Yaakov, the epitome of the yoshev ohalim, was living on a higher plane, as he reached for the intangible.
Eisav let the bechorah go, because, as he said, “hinai anochi holech lamus.” Why do I need things that aren’t relevant to this world? I have no value for things I can’t see or touch.
But now, upon seeing Yaakov and his family for the first time, Eisav witnessed the joy and fulfillment of a father in the company of his family, his wife and his children. He confronted Yaakov and said, “This type of enjoyment is pure pleasure. It’s Olam Hazeh. So how does it come to you? Olam Hazeh is my province. Mi eileh lihiyos shelcha?”
Yaakov responded to Eisav that he was in error. He said that the beautiful children Eisav was jealous of were given to him by Hakadosh Boruch Hu – chanan Elokim – for a higher purpose – not merely for enjoyment, but for nitzchiyus, for perpetuation of the Divine creed.
Children, and generations, are part of something much bigger than us, and being part of the world of chinuch is brushing eternity.
Our children are part of something bigger. They carry forth the mesorah from parents, grandparents and great-grandparents back to Yaakov Avinu, who lived with the attitude that they were bearers of a regal tradition and charged with a mandate to create generations for Hashem. Children, they recognized, are a “matnas chinam,” an undeserved gift, from Him, for Olam Haba, for nitzchiyus.
The Chinuch Roundtable column appears in this newspaper each week, be’ezras Hashem. The questions selected for the review of our distinguished panelists are scrutinized to ensure that they meet the standards of the newspaper and are relevant to our readers and the chinuch community. But there is something the reader doesn’t know or see.
There are many questions that are submitted that cannot be used, for various reasons. These questions also reflect the confusion, doubt, and, all too often, pain of dedicated parents. Just because they cannot be published does not mean that they are heartlessly deleted, with the parent or child left to deal with a pressing issue by themselves. In such situations, the moderator and publisher determine which panelist would best be able to deal with that question, and the email is forwarded to him to deal with it personally, responding to the hurting parents and helping them with their dilemma.
Our panelists get nothing in return, except the satisfaction of helping people. They make themselves available because they are real. In their offices, they see all sorts of problems and issues, but they don’t merely issue statements and assurances that they will deal with them. They roll up their sleeves and confront the problems, one at a time, dealing with them honestly and candidly, and addressing them with courage, optimism and faith.
In these pages, the Chinuch Roundtable panelists have offered straight talk about pressing and relevant issues. They’ve discussed resentment amongst parents and administrators regarding tuition. They’ve spoken about the poor state of the general studies departments in too many schools. They’ve dissected the disconnect that many working fathers experience in our current system and the burdens placed on working mothers. They have demanded accountability and, unlike the weak and anxious bloggers, their names are right next to their words as they unapologetically tackle real issues.
And, unseen by the rest of the world, they work privately with so many other desperate questioners, offering advice, time and encouragement, not just in print and by the podium, but in private, exhibiting traits of true leadership.
So, as we celebrate the accomplishments of those unafraid to talk straight, we applaud them, thank them and wish them the strength and ability to continue in their avodas hakodesh, unimpeded by financial pressures or other obstacles.
My rebbi Rav Elya Svei zt”l would quote the words of Chazal who teach that when confronted by aishes Potifar, Yosef Hatzaddik’s defenses had crumbled. He almost succumbed to the nisayon, when “herah lo demus deyukno shel aviv.” This is usually understood to mean that when he thought of succumbing to sin, he saw the image of his father’s face in front of him and he drew back.
Rav Elya would relate an explanation in the name of a chassidishe rebbe, who explained that Chazal mean that the face that Yosef saw which prevented him from sinning was not that of his father, but rather, Yosef Hatzaddik observed the reflection of his own face the way it appeared to Yaakov. He remembered how Yaakov would look at him, and that is what prevented him from sinning. He contemplated how his father, Yaakov, had looked at him – with pride, love, hope and confidence – and, thus strengthened, he rose above the nisayon.
Rav Elya would say that we must look at each child in a way that imbues them with the knowledge that they are capable of greatness and that there are high expectations for them. They should be viewed in a way that creates a demus deyukno.
A child who understands that someone believes in them is more likely to excel and lead a blessed, accomplished life than children who perceive themselves as viewed with a face and look of negativity and derision. Same goes for adults, by the way.
What makes the members of our chinuch panel extraordinary is not only that they give of their time to share wisdom and experience. It’s also that they don’t approach problems with an air of negativity and pessimism by dumping on the children of today. In fact, their approach is quite the opposite. Their advice is laced with confidence and faith in every Jew – each child, each person, each father and each mother.
Leadership isn’t earned simply through ambition or careful preparation, but necessitates the readiness to face real issues and confront them, head-on, intelligently, forthrightly and honestly. That is true in the general world and in our world as well.
And to those in our camp who step up, we are eternally grateful.