Last week, I mentioned that most people respect the admirable qualities of others as long as they are allowed to discover those qualities for themselves. I witness this every week at the Shabbos shiur given across the street from me. Before each shiur, there is a tingle of excitement in the air, in anticipation of the intellectual delights of the next hour-and-a-half. But there is something else as well – something bordering on love for the relatively young talmid chacham who gives the shiur. That love binds us not only to him, but to all the others attending the shiur.
His brilliance is not the source of that affection. Rather it is the combination of brilliance and his completely self-effacing pashtus. For nearly twenty years, this talmid chacham davened in the shul, without so much as ever giving a drashah on leil Shabbos. Apparently others more in the know than I had some inkling of his gadlus, because at some point someone asked him if he would give a shiur on Shabbos afternoon. That shiur began with less than a minyan of attendees sitting around a table, but news spread quickly just by word of mouth, and within a few weeks the ranks of regular attendees has swelled to over a hundred.
The rav still sits in the same place towards the back of the shul, has a smile for everyone, deflects any expressions of gratitude for the shiur by responding that we are doing him a favor by coming, and attends every simcha (although now he is invited to many more.)
Well, actually he doesn't attend every simcha. Not so long ago, one of the regulars at the shiur invited him to the vort of his granddaughter. The next day the rav called to apologize profusely that he had not been able to come. It turned out that there was a chasanah that evening for a talmid in the yeshiva in which he teaches. The chasanah took place in the yeshiva itself, and there were not enough hands available in the kitchen. So the rav stayed to help with the preparations.
As this talmid chacham reveals, there is no middah so attractive as genuine anivus. I often wonder how genuinely superior people manage to avoid looking down at others. How do they retain their humility, without which their excellence in so many areas would lose much of its luster? (I have never experienced this particular challenge.)
I don't mean those who are intellectually gifted: It's relatively easy to appreciate that natural gifts are just that – gifts from Hashem. I mean those who are always on time for davening, those who have become talmidei chachamim through their unrelenting yegiah b'Torah, those who have a smile for every collector, those who know exactly how much ma'aser they should be giving, etc. In short, those who are genuinely superior, not just blessed.
Surely, they must be aware of their superiority and our inferiority. In one of the minyanim in which I daven, there is someone who always seems to glance up if I come in late. Perhaps it's only my imagination that he notices me, but the thought of his glance is frequently enough to cause me to wait for the next minyan. He may not be aware of his superiority in always been on time for every minyan, but I'm acutely conscious of my opposite tendency.
So far I've come up with two possibilities about how great people can also retain their humility. The first is that it never occurs to them to compare themselves to anyone else, and thus they have no occasion to ever look down on anyone. For them, the only question is whether they are reaching the elevated standards they have set for themselves. The Vilna Gaon felt more pain over six minutes unaccounted for in a year than we do over the most serious failings.
The second answer is that they view all kochos hanefesh as gifts from Hashem, not just the obvious ones. Those who grew up in proximity to the Chazon Ish attest that when he was learning a sugya, every person in the neighborhood could have said the relevant Gemaros b'al peh, so many times did they hear him revieiwing the Gemara. His hasmoda was beyond our comprehension. Yet when asked how he reached that level of hasmoda, the Chazon Ish would answer: Anyone born with my kochos hanefesh would have reached the same level.
People often ask me, with respect to my columns in the Jerusalem Post: How can you stand having to deal with all those chareidi-bashers all the time. They must get you so angry. "Not really," I tell them. "I'm lucky. At least, I can answer them, and perhaps occasionally even grab their attention. I don't have to keep all the frustration inside." In short, getting a chance to answer back is gratifying.
American voters answered back last week. It would be a mistake to view the American midterm elections as nothing more than an expression of voter anger over Obamacare or runaway budgets or high unemployment. I suspect that the most engaged voters last week thoroughly enjoyed themselves, just as I once enjoyed writing columns rejecting the jurisprudence of Court President Aharon Barak.
The brightest star to emerge on the Republican scene in this election, 39-year-old, Florida senator-elect Marco Rubio, was also the most upbeat. His parents were Cuban exiles; his father worked as a bartender and his mother as a hotel housekeeper in Las Vegas, as he was growing up. An early Tea Party favorite, he raced to a landslide victory over Florida's popular governor, on the basis of his ability to articulate a vision of America as a land of boundless opportunity. His message throughout the bitter campaign was one of relentless optimism.
Voters were affirming their belief in a particular vision of America based on the preservation of individual liberty. That vision is not just negative towards big government -- at least as articulated by Rubio -- it also supports a strong (and expensive) American military as a defender of freedom and robust spending on public education, including higher education, to ensure that America remains an society of opportunity.
Just as the Israeli chareidi community felt uplifted by the mass gathering in support of the Emanuel parents, as an expression of devotion to our core values, so to did American voters rejoice in their opportunity to affirm their core values and vision of America.
The left-wing Guardian in England reports some startling findings about the efficacy of the 1997 Kyoto Accords, which were designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The signatories to the Kyoto Accords committed to reducing their emissions based on a 1991 baseline of emissions. While 187 nations ratified the Accords, the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, was not among them.
The Guardian found that carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union declined 17% between 1990 and 2010. But the emissions produced by all the goods and services consumed by the EU increased 40% over the same period. In other words, all the EU had done was to transfer the emissions to countries with less rigorous reduction targets, thereby exporting jobs in polluting industries abroad, but failing to reduce world-wide emissions.
In light of those findings, Walter Russell Mead, Henry Kissinger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that the rejection of the Kyoto Accords by the U.S. Senate – an act for which President Obama has repeatedly apologized – appears to be one of those rare instances in which 95 senators got things exactly right. Addressing the Green Movement, he observes that its time for the environmental movement to grow up and begin to deal with the complex economics, politics, and diplomacy of its proposals and not just content itself with good intentions. And to the Green Movement's servile supporters in the media, it's time to get beyond the syllogism: The environment is good; x says that y will be good for the environment; therefore y is good.
Environmental politics is only one of many areas in which social planners, filled with grandiose plans, would be well-advised to focus on the unintended consequences of their schemes for human betterment.