Vayera: A Leader to All

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What is the responsibility of a pious individual among sinners? A deeper look at three of our most famous ancestors, Noach, Avraham and Moshe.

Noach vs. Avraham

The Zohar states that there were three righteous individuals who lived among an immoral society: Noach, Avraham and Moshe.

In the generation of Noach, with the advent of the Great Flood, Noach prayed for the salvation of his family and himself. He didn’t think about the rest of humanity. Only when approached and asked about his construction of an ark did he rebuke the people of his generation and say that Hashem planned to bring a flood and destroy humanity. The Zohar is critical of the fact that he waited to be approached and didn’t make it his business to reach out to them.

Avraham didn’t wait to be approached. Rather, “Avraham called in the name of Hashem,” he reached out and spread his message of monotheism throughout the world. However, his goal was to create a society of righteous people. He didn’t occupy himself with the wellbeing of the non-virtuous. When Hashem decreed that Sodom be destroyed, he said to Hashem, “Perhaps there are…righteous individuals inside the city,” in whose merit the city shouldn’t be destroyed. When he understood that there weren’t even ten righteous individuals, “Avraham returned to his place,” and had no more complaints.

A True Faithful Shepherd

Moshe, however, as the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, behaved differently. When the Jewish people sinned, Moshe demanded of Hashem to forgive them all, even the non-virtuous among them. Instead of following the example of Noach who prayed only for his own family, Moshe demanded of Hashem the very opposite: “If [you don’t forgive the Jewish people], erase me from Your book.”

Moshe placed himself in danger for the sake of the Jewish people. There was no logical reason to pray for those who intentionally sinned with the Golden Calf, yet Moshe risked his own place, resolutely and devotedly, for them as well. This behavior is dubbed by the Zohar – the Torah’s soul – to be שלימו כדקא יאות. This is the correct path to follow after the Giving of the Torah. This is a true “faithful shepherd.”

The Proper Path in Our Day

The leader of a generation, especially after the Giving of the Torah, endangers himself for the wellbeing of his people without distinction, regardless of whether they are deserving or not. He doesn’t lock himself into an “ark” with his wife and children, while leaving the rest of his flock to their fate without caring to pray for them. As the Zohar states, “That is why the Flood is called in his name, Noach’s Flood.”

A true shepherd of his flock places himself in harm’s way with genuine self-sacrifice for the sake of his people. This applies even to a generation like the Israelites who left Egypt, about whom Rabbi Akiva said “they do not have a portion in the world to come” (even though Rabbi Akiva was a great lover of Israel, who taught that loving your fellow is a great precept of the Torah). Moshe, the faithful shepherd sacrificed himself for their sake, and remained behind in the desert with them; the Midrash states on the verse, “He carried out Hashem’s judgement and his decisions for Israel,” that Moshe remained with his generation in the desert in order to take them along when he ultimately leaves.

Shabbos Shelach 5715. (Toras Menachem vol. 14 pg. 158).

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