VISION AND LEADERSHIP: Reflections on Joseph and Moses

VISION AND LEADERSHIP: Reflections on Joseph and Moses
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    VISION AND LEADERSHIP: Reflections on Joseph and Moses


    By Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Editors: David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler

    ISBN 978-1602802193
    Published: 2012
    Series: Meotzar Horav
    Hardcover, 240 pages


    "Soon after the revelation at Sinai, the Jews committed the sin of the Golden Calf. We should note that prima facie this sin was more abominable, more horrible, than the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. IF we translate it into halakhic terms, the sin of the Tree of Knowledge consisted in eating forbidden foods, while the sin of the Golden Calf touched the very essence of Judaism, namely, the prohibition against idolatry. Yet, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, all future generations were struck by disaster. Adam alienated himself from his Creator and was driven out of Paradise. According to Hazal, God had intended for man to live forever, but the original sin brought about death and man became mortal. When the community alienated itself from the Creator by worshipping the Golden Calf, the consequences of the sin were not as tragic."
    ~ excerpted from Vision and Leadership


    Vision and Leadership, the eleventh in the series MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, presents Rabbi Soloveitchik's reflections on biblical narratives and characters, beginning with the Joseph stories and the Jewish people's sojourn in Egypt and ending with the story of Moses' death on the brink of return to the Promised Land. Through careful exegesis of the verses, illuminating analyses of character, and insightful readings of midrashim and classic medieval commentators, the reflections in this book seek the underlying messages of biblical stories and an understanding of what they teach us about past and present events in the life of the Jewish people. They also shed light on broader concepts, such as the nature of justice, idolatry, spiritual authority, and halakhic thought.


    About the Author

    Rabbi Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was not only one of the outstanding talmudists of the twentieth century, but also one of its most creative and seminal Jewish thinkers. Drawing from a vast reservoir of Jewish and general knowledge, "the Rav," as he is widely known, brought Jewish thought and law to bear on the interpretation and assessment of the modern experience. For over four decades, Rabbi Soloveitchik commuted weekly from his home in Brookline, Massachusetts to New York City, where he gave the senior shiur (class in Talmud) at Yeshiva University's affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), where he taught and inspired generations of students, among them many of the future leaders of all areas of Jewish communal life. By his extensive personal teaching and influence, he contributed vitally to the dynamic resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in America.


    Praise for Vision and Leadership

    "Rav Soloveitchik's incredibly creative and insightful portrayals of biblical personalities, the events of their lives, and the applicability of these ideas to the contemporary reader, provides a great deal of fresh and profound fodd for thought even for those who view themselves as deeply familiar with Joseph and Moses. A leitmotiffor which the Rav is well-known is the exploration and application of the concept of Hegel's conception of the 'dialietic,' i.e., the intersection of a thesis with an antithesis to produce a synthesis, and Vision and Leadership offers numerous examples of how this idea lies at the heart of biblical situations and Jewish approaches to life. Examples of dialectical discussion in the book include: a) confronting evil in order to appreciate the good; b) dreaming vs. practical application; c) dignity of man vs. the need for sacrificial action; d) clear understanding vs. confusion and mystery; and e) holiness deriving from the chosen community vs. the uniqueness of every individual". In order to illustrate many of his points, R. Soloveitchik draws from personal experience, recalling the lesson of an impactful teacher, his grandfather R. Chaim's way of dealing with people, and aspects of his own personality wich he struggled to overcome. Finally, the Rav pithily formulates his approach regarding how even the most traditional Jew must engage with the greater world: "We demand of man complete involvement in all worldly affairs. We equate withdrawal from the world and society with cowardice and warn against it. Our philosophy preaches activism, aggressiveness, and articulateness..."
    ~ Jewish Book World


    "With this 11th installment in the series, Soloveitchik's previously unpublished material on biblical luminaries Joseph and Moses comes to light. Shatz, Wolowelsky, and Ziegler combed through the treasure trove of manuscripts, tapes, and lectures left by the Rav, as Soloveitchik was affectionately called by his students, to arrange this meticulous collection of thoughts and insights. In it, Soloveitchik shares his analyses of Joseph as dreamer and ruler; his assessment of Joseph's father Jacob/Israel as both subservient and powerful; and the roles Moses played as judge and king, among other topics. As with his other works, the Rav's erudition is evident, and the personal stories that are woven into his biblical exegesis reinforce his assertion that the Bible's stories and its layers of interpretation have informed the psyche of the Jewish nation throughout history and still resonate today. Bible scholars and followers of the Rav will certainly appreciate this important volume."
    ~ Publishers Weekly


    "This is the latest of the so-far eleven posthumous writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) based on writings he did not publish. This one contains a dozen essays on the biblical Joseph and Moses that were taken from various writings and notes by the rabbi, which were edited and assembled in this book. Rabbi Soloveitchik's interpretations of the biblical events surrounding Joseph and Moses were derived from his understanding of how to read the Torah. He follows the view of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva and not that of his colleague Rabbi Ishmael. Rabbi Akiva felt that since the Torah is divine, no word or letter is superfluous. Each has meaning, and people must mine the Torah text to find this meaning even though the meaning is not explicit in the words or letters. Rabbi Ishmael felt that the Torah is intended for humans and was composed in language that people could understand. Thus, just as people repeat themselves for emphasis or to enhance the poetry of what is said, so too does the Torah, which "speaks in human language." Rabbi Soloveitchik also, like Nachmanides, but unlike Maimonides, took the homiletical messages in Midrashim literally and seemed to accept as true the mystical notions in the thirteenth century Zohar, including its teachings about the sephirot, because he frequently quotes this book. He also believed that God is present in this world and causes people to act in ways he wants them to act. Thus, the essays about Joseph and Moses do not attempt to reveal the plain meaning of the biblical tales, but are homiletics, sermons that express his view of Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchik, for example, states that the confrontation between Joseph and his brothers was "not jealousy" but "a lack of appreciation (of) the sense of unity that members of a family feel for each other." The brothers "were taken aback (by Joseph's dreams, because Joseph) placed himself and them within a different society, not a pastoral but an agricultural one." Joseph had concerns that did not bother his brothers. He feared "the complete disintegration of the covenantal community founded by Abraham." Joseph also had a vision of "exile in Egypt". They would have to live in a cruel land run by a dictatorial Pharaoh.... He had "a feeling of doom." It was God who "arranged for Joseph to be introduced to Pharaoh... Joseph's stay in Egypt was predestined and planned to the minute by the Almighty." Unstated in the Torah, Joseph explained to Pharaoh that "man's conquest of nature brings him not only blessings but distress as well." Joseph did much for Egypt. Among other contributions, he introduced "a rationing system" in Egypt. Later, when Joseph and his brother Judah discussed the future of their brother Benjamin, whether Joseph should enslave him for stealing his cup: "Intuitively, they (the brothers) felt that the controversy did not revolve about their brother Benjamin, but about Jewish historical destiny, that is, about whose descendants would be the King Messiah -- Joseph's or Judah's." Jacob came to Egypt to reunite with his son Joseph and lived in Egypt until he died for seventeen years, the same amount of time that Joseph lived with him until his brothers sold him into slavery. Jacob had to be in Egypt for this time to imbue Joseph "with the morality and piety of Abraham." Joseph asked Jacob's descendants to take his body to Canaan when they left Egypt. Moses "carried Joseph's coffin on his shoulders for forty years." Moses forgot his past, including his religion, during the many decades that he lived with his wife in Midian "because he wanted to forget." We must never give up hope about non-observant Jews; there is a chance the person will return to Judaism. The vision of the burning bush that Moses saw shows that Jews are indestructible. "Pharaoh's tolerance (of Moses) is one of the greatest miracles in the story of the Exodus!" The people of Amalek attacked the Israelites when they left Egypt, but "it was not a war against the ex-slaves; it was, rather, a war with the God of Israel." Rabbi Soloveitchik also states that the first human Adam had many children during the 130 years between the birth of Cain and Abel and the birth of Seth. These children "did not bear the "image of God," -- only the descendants of Seth, "in other words, not all humanity was necessarily created in the image of God." This image is "a challenge to which man is supposed to respond, a destination toward which one may journey, an ideal to be realized." Those who fail to live up to this ideal, who reject the burden, who decline the responsibility, are like Adam's descendants before Seth was born, "aboriginal" people "of chaos and darkness." "Judaism," Rabbi Soloveitchik writes, as Maimonides before him, "insists that man develop his potentialities to the fullest. The Torah encourages man to think, to work, to learn, to improve and perfect himself and his environment, and to intervene whenever necessary in natural processes, if such interference will contribute to the self-realization of man. God purposely did not complete the world." God left "man an opportunity to join Him in His creative gesture and become a co-participant in the mysterious act of continuous creation."
    ~ Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin