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Parashat Noach

Alexander the Great once said, I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. What are the qualities of lion-leadership, and what type of leaders are “sheep” leaders?

A lion-hearted leader instills in you his fearless beliefs, the determination to lead others and be responsible for them, while a sheep-hearted leader instills within you fear, the complacency of being a follower and the expectation that others will be responsible for you.

נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו As great as Noach was, he was great only in his generation. But had Noach lived in Avraham’s generation, Noach would not be considered great. (See Rashi) Why? What was the difference between them? The passuk explains, at its end: אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־ נֹֽחַ:  The difference between Noach and Avraham was that Avraham was a leader, but Noach needed G-d to lead him. (See Rashi)

Noach, as nice a guy as he was, was not Noach Avinu. Only Avraham Avinu was called Avinu, and the Father of the Jewish Nation. Why is that so? Why is it important for us that our leader is Avraham, and not Noach? After all, you and I are here today in Noach’s merit! The answer is because we follow only leaders who are lion-hearted. Noach just did not fit the bill. How so?

The hint is in the Haftarah. The Haftarah refers to the flood as מי נח, Noach’s Flood, because Noach could have changed the people of his generation, or at least have taken responsibility for the wicked of his day by praying for them. (See Zohar page 42a;2) Noach could have been more influential, by not just saying, while building the Ark for 120 years, “I am building this to save myself and my family from the flood.” (See P’DRE) Noach could have prayed for the wicked to return, no matter how low, immoral, cruel, or addicted they were, just as Avraham felt it was his responsibility at least to pray for the people of Sedom. And because Noach did not rise to the challenge, because Noach did not fill G-d’s expectations of responsibility, he was held somewhat responsible.

The question of the whole story of Noach and his Ark almost jumps out at you. G-d has so many ways to save Noach, i.e., bring him to the Land of Israel, which was not affected by the Flood. (Zevachim 113) According to Google Maps, it is only a 340-hour walk from Mt. Ararat to Israel, and a 260 hours’ walk from Babylon to Israel! Why, then, did G-d ask Noach to be so busy for 120 years building an Ark, when there were seemingly more simple solutions?! The answer is… because G-d wanted Noach to change the world and make it a better place! (See Rashi) G-d wanted Noach to make a BIG statement with his BIG Ark – Hey, guys! Something scary is going to happen!!!

But scaring people in order to lead them just does not work. A leader is great only if he truly leads. If he can be there for the sheep when they need him most, and make them into lions. The only way you can truly lead people is Avraham Avinu’s way. Just like Avraham Avinu figured out the tricks of the trade of Kiruv, going out of his zone to be there for people when they would need him the most, from whichever direction they came, with his iconic 4-entrance tent in the desert. Noach was given a 120-year assignment of kiruv outreach, but he failed.

This is a lesson relevant to anyone who is in a position of power to persuade, influence, or educate. The Rambam begins the laws of Talmud Torah – about the Mitzvah of teaching… before the Mitzah of learning!! The Mitzvah of teaching is at the root of the Mitzvah of Torah. This is the most important part of the Mitzvah.וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ The meat and potatoes. The Rambam is teaching us that the greatest Torah-learning aspiration should be to be the best teacher possible. The most meaningful and affective time in a person’s life is in his youth.  That’s when a teacher or mentor can engrave a deep impression that lasts. When young people work on their Middot and personality and conquer their Yetzer Hara while still young, it is much easier for them to stay strong throughout their life. As the passuk says, כִּ֠י יֵ֣צֶר לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֛ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו  (- see Baal Haturim Breshit  8 ; 21) And as the Imrei Emet quoted the Arizal, that the main spiritual energy a person has is from the Mitzvot and good deeds that he did while in his youth, before tasting the taste of sin. As the passuk in Yirmiyah says, זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך. (2;2) Helping a student in whatever level they are on is the greatest level of learning Torah! It could be that this is why Hashem gave you your 120 years, to help this one kid to be able to understand this one passuk!

R’ Chaim Friedlander has a whole essay on this fundamental principle of Judaism: that life is not about you, but about into what type of utensil G-d made you, what talents, abilities and tools G-d gave you in order to bring about His Honor in some way. (See Siftei Chaim- Emunah A, page 33) In his essay, he quotes the Rambam. The Rambam writes that it could be that G-d gave a rich man his wealth to build a huge building, for the sole purpose that just one time, a tzaddik would sit in its shade. (Intro to Zeraim) G-d could have you busy with a family project for 120 years,  so you could affect just one person, one time!

This is the perception of the lion-hearted spiritual leader. He perceives that his whole role in this world is to be G-d’s tool to change the people he leads from sheep into lions. To produce more leaders, not more followers.

This lesson is sourced in the Talmud. Tornusrofus the Wicked challenged R’ Akiva: If your G-d loves the poor people, why doesn’t He support them, Himself? R’ Akiva answered him: In order for us to be saved from Gehinom, in the merit of the Mitzvah of Tzeddaka. (Bava Batra 10)

What?!?!?!?! How could this be? This poor guy needs to live a life of poverty, a life of pulling out his hair, of struggles, of embarrassment, in order to save you and me from hell?

As unfair as it sounds, this is that fundamental tenet of Judaism. We are not here for this world; we are here for the next world.  The merit the poor person has for saving another from Gehinom is so great, it is worth it to live 120 years of poverty!!!!!

Your Tafkid, your life’s purpose and mission, is not about you: it is about everyone that is in your world that you have a chance to affect. G-d put you in this world, and He is keeping you here, to make it a better place.

So, how does one lead like a lion?

Here are the Selfie- Steps. The self-help steps that can make you a great leader.

  1. Notice where there is a great need that only you can fulfill, how can you lead the “sheep”, and help them face their fears by bringing them optimism and hope.
  2. Know yourself. Know that you, just one man, can change humanity. You, with your unique position, knowledge, strengths, ambitions, ideals and background, can help those who lack or are in need, in your unique way.
  3. Always be a giver.
  4. Ask your Rabbi for direction in how to balance helping others, while protecting yourself and your family.
  5. If you cannot change your world, pray for it. If you cannot help, at least show that you care.

About the author, Yosef

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