Welcome to Mesorah NJ!

December 6, 2014

 

Mesorah is the Hebrew word for legacy and tradition, usually referring to the transmission of values through time. The root of the word Mesorah is "to give" and the word often associated with it, "lekabel," means “to receive.” Every gift needs a receiver. In fact, the first Mishna in Avos describes the "mesorah" of the Torah throughout the generations. In each phrase, it recounts a giver and a receiver of the Torah values. The Mesorah NJ vision is to embrace the past and actualize those values in a meaningful way in the present-in 2014.

 

We recently read the Torah potion of Vayishlach. In it, we see the showdown between Esau and Jacob (Eisav and Yaakov). Yaakov is meeting his brother Eisav, after stealing his birthright and inheritance, and so Yaakov fears for his life. The Torah describes Yaakov's strategy in meeting Eisav: He prays, he prepares for war and he tries one more thing, He sends gifts. What would the gifts help? If Eisav hates Yaakov and seeks revenge, how can a gift resolve that? Eisav is wicked, but he is intelligent too. He knows that Yaakov is sending him gifts to flatter him.

 

But it works. Eisav accepts the gifts and his anger subsides. How can that be?

 

Actually it happens all of the time. How many times does an employer hear flattering words from an employee? The boss knows the words are meant to sweeten him up, as it were, and it still works. Such is the power of flattery and the weakness of the ego. A story is told of a farmer who lined up all the scarecrows in his field and lifted their arms in salute. Every day he walked past his saluting scarecrows and our Sages tell us that he still felt good. These are scarecrows. He set them up. And he still felt good? That is the ego.

 

Even though it worked with Eisav, and may work with your boss, the Torah prohibits us from flattering people. Why, if it works? We should not stoop, in everyday, normal relationships, to the level that Yaakov had to, in his desperation to ward off Eisav’s rage and a massacre of Yaakov’s troops. And, what did Eisav achieve by accepting Yaakov’s flattery?  Not Yaakov’s respect, to be sure. He received short-term material gifts.  In the end, Yaakov, by relying on flattery (and, in no small measure, prayer and preparation) for survival, Yaakov gave Eisav yet another opportunity, or trap, to act on his lower instincts. The Torah prohibits us from manipulating people in this way, even those who may readily “buy” it and even want it, because we then “take” something away from them—their opportunity for independent, kind judgment.

 

Back to the farmer, we have to ask ourselves in life, how many times are we blinded by our egos? Either because of flattery or for other reasons. We don't see clearly or we don't see the other side because our ego gets in the way. Are we depriving ourselves of an independent, dignified approach to a situation?

 

Excerpted from Rabbi Zvi Teitelbaum of Mesorah DC

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