Who Has More Influence?; A REALLY Dangerous Nomination; Honor Thy Guest
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 8, 2013
Who Has More Influence?
When Rabbi Moshe Sherer set his sites on potential new talent for Agudath Israel, he rarely had to take no for an answer. For those in chinuch, his pitch was usually along the lines: "As a rebbi, your were able to touch 25 lives a year – perhaps one thousand over your teaching career, Working for Agudah Israel, you can help all of Klal Yisrael."
For a leader of Rabbi Sherer's stature the argument was doubtless true. So large great was his impact and so unique the qualities he brought to leadership that Klal Yisrael would have lost out had he gone into the career in rabbonus he originally intended. And no doubt there are others who lack the sense of mission that the greatest teachers require, and will more fully utilize their talents in an institutional framework than they would in the classroom. As a close friend once put it to me, "You are not nice enough to do kiruv." And he was right.
But for those who have the ability to profoundly affect others on an individual basis – who care deeply about their talmidim and are moser nefesh for them as they would be for a beloved child – I don't think the argument applies.
I came to this conclusion during one of my night-time walks with a friend who is a rebbi at a post-high school yeshiva for American boys from weaker backgrounds. He is in regular contact with hundreds of talmidim he has taught over the last twenty years, often writing them letters the old-fashioned way -- with pen and paper. For many he has played a crucial role in turning their lives around, and they continue to seek his guidance.
I confess to experiencing a touch of envy listening to my friend, even as I know that I would never be willing to make myself available at all hours of the day and night and open my home the way he does.
It is an immense privilege as a columnist to enter into a conversation with thousands of readers every week. And I admit to feeling gratified when someone has a good word for a column. But by far the most frequent compliment I hear is: You said just what I wanted to say. Least frequent comment: You really changed my way of thinking. In short, I harbor no illusions about having changed anyone's life in a fundamental way.
My walking partner may not be well-known, but over twenty years of teaching he can point (if he were not too modest) to dozens of young men upon whose lives he has had a profound impact and helped developed a real relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. And that impact will be felt in every one of their descendants.
The Alter of Kelm used to say, "My goal is not be marbeh talmidim (produce many students), but to marbeh b'talmidim (create greatness in my students). In that vein, he explained the injunction of the Men of the Great Assembly "to raise up (ha'amidu) talmidim harbeh," not in the sense of producing many talmidim, but of raising one's talmidim very high. In other words, better to affect a few in a deep way than to touch many superficially.
EVEN FOR THOSE OF US WHO LACK the qualities required for a successful of mechanech (educator), there is one group of students whom we have the power to influence greatly for the good (or its opposite): our children. For them we should all be able to find the mesirus nefesh that is the hallmark of a great teacher. It is important therefore that we never lose sight of how great is our potential impact.
Dr. Benjamin Carson's address last month at the National Prayer Breakfast, with President Obama and his wife present, highlighted this point. Carson is one of the world's leading pediatric neurosurgeons and a department chairman at Johns Hopkins Medical School. His beginnings in life, however, were not auspicious. He grew up in the Detroit slums, raised by a single mother, one of 24 children herself, who was married at 13 to a much older bigamist.
But Sonya Carson wanted something more for her two sons. So she turned off the TV, and told her sons they could watch three hours a week, but only after they handed her two book reports on books they had read from the Detroit public library. The reports came back with highlights and all kinds of marginalia. It was years before Dr. Carson and his brother realized that their mother was illiterate. By then, they were well on their way out of the ghetto.
Rereading Lieutenant Birnbaum last week, I came across another good example of how a parent can instill in his or her child a trait that lasts a lifetime. If Sarah Birnbaum looked out the window and saw someone struggling with her grocery bags, she would send her oldest son Meyer to help them. "When I returned from these little missions," he remembered, "she would praise me so warmly that I could hardly wait for the next opportunity to help someone." That desire to help, fostered by his mother's early praise, became Meyer Birnbaum's trademark.
No matter how important we imagine our other tasks in life to be, they will never yield the returns for either us or for Klal Yisrael of the time we invest in our children.
The REALLY Dangerous Nomination
We can finally put the nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense behind us. Let us pray that his confirmation hearings were so damaging that the President makes good on Hagel's claim in those hearings that he will not have a policymaking role.
Even more dangerous is the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA. The CIA is charged with the task of providing the president with the information and analysis he needs to make policy decisions. Brennan, however, wears such ideologically-colored spectacles that he is incapable of even seeing the evidence before him, much less evaluating it.
Brennan consistently downplays the power of religion and the impact of one religion – Islam -- on global terrorism. He attributes terrorism primarily to "political and economic causes and conditions," even though Muslim terrorists, including the 9/11 bombers, are consistently drawn from the best-educated and most affluent sectors of society. In his world, there are no Islamic terrorists, just "violent extremists" or "Al-Qaeda and affiliates."
The expansion of Islamic law through war — i.e., jihad — cannot be jihad according to Brennan, because jihad is "a holy struggle to purify oneself or one's community." Apparently he has read none of the leading ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he once described to Congress as a "moderate secular organization." They all savor visions of offensive jihad to spread Sharia. Muslim terrorists, both domestic and international, invariably offer jihad as their motivation.
In his writings and speeches, Brennan is always finding moderate elements within Islamic terrorist groups, like Hamas and Hizbullah, whom the United States should engage in dialogue. Ditto with respect to the Iranian ayatollahs. He ignores the theological underpinnings of these groups.
Under his counterterrorism watch, administration officials have met a hundred times with officials of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), despite the group being named as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Holy Land Hamas-funding prosecution. At the behest of American-Muslim "defense organizations," including many with Muslim Brotherhood affiliations, Brennan oversaw the expunging of terms such as Islamism, radical Islam, Sharia, and jihad from all US counterintelligence training material.
Brennan's career is blotted with egregious errors induced by his political correctness. He eagerly endorsed the finding of the flawed 2007 Intelligence Estimate that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the x-mas bomber, who nearly blew up a commercial aircraft with more than 200 passengers over Detroit, was removed from a terrorist watch list, despite warnings from British intelligence based on his father's concerns about his growing religious fanaticism. Even the N.Y. Times now describes US antiterrorism policy in North Africa under Brennan as a "comprehensive failure."
As Caroline Glick wrote in response to the claim of a former FBI agent that Brennan is a convert to Islam, "What difference would it make if it were true?"
Honor Thy Guest
The son of a neighbor with whom I have been attending the same morning shiur for many years got married the night before a recent trip. The days before trips are always a time of high pressure for me.
Not attending was not an option. The shiur is a self-enclosed island of sanity, totally cut off from the divisions that plague the broader religious community in Israel. The members all feel a close connection to one another by virtue of our shared love for our maggid shiur, though we daven in different minyanim and travel in different circles.
By the time I arrived in the wedding hall, I was more than a little frazzled. I had been confused about the location and had already gone to the wrong hall. And when I finally reached the right hall, it took me twenty minutes to find parking, before opting for a space of questionable legality.
I did not expect to know anyone beyond the members of the shiur and intended to stay for only a few minutes -- one of the luxuries of life in Eretz Yisrael. The dancing was in full throttle when I entered. As I stood on the outside of the circle for elderly gents, the ba'al hasimchah noticed me, and motioned to me to come inside to dance with him alone. We were soon joined by other members of the shiur.
That gesture turned the chasanah from a duty to be discharged to a simcha for me. For it said to me: Your presence here makes a difference to me and adds to my simcha. Now, I felt I was actually performing a mitzvah by coming, not just avoiding embarrassment the next day in shiur.
My friend showed me how an alert ba'al hasimchah can change the whole tenor of the event for his guests – an example I hope to be able to emulate in the near future.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Biographical - Jonathan Rosenblum, Islamofacism & Terrorism, Jewish Ethics, Social Issues
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