May 27, 2024
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May 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Parshat Netzavim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu reminding Bnei Yisrael that they are standing before Hashem. But to whom exactly is Moshe Rabbeinu referring? First he says “kul’chem—all of you,” and then he says, “roshei’chem shivtei’chem, ziknei’chem, shotrei’chem—you leaders, elders, and officers,” and finally Moshe goes back to everyone—“kol ish Yisrael.” What is the meaning of this repetition? (See the next pasuk for even more groups of people.) One possible explanation is that the pasuk means to say that all of Bnei Yisrael is equal to its leaders. Each and every Jew is important and plays a role in the development of the Jewish people, no matter how “important.”

As the pasuk states, this only works when we view ourselves as “standing before Hashem.” Hashem created us as individuals, and as long as we have Hashem in mind, we can see ourselves as equal in importance to our leaders. This important lesson seems to be true specifically about each part of Bnei Yisrael. However, it can go further, teaching us about how to view each part of our personalities. Let’s use a story to better understand how this works.

Yeshivat HaMetzuyanim was a school full of excellent students. From nursery through 8th grade, the brightest and most capable students from the neighborhood attended Y-HaM. So you can imagine how competitive it could get, particularly regarding the decision to crown one student as valedictorian of the graduating class. This year’s committee chose Braindy Smarts as valedictorian, a straight-A+ student, known for her kindness, leadership and of course, her intelligence. The runner-up was a boy named Tal Midchacham, a brilliant student who had shown unimaginable ability in all classes, specifically in Limmudei Kodseh. However, Tal fell just short of Braindy, and it really upset him.

As a result of this disappointment, Tal spent the few days after the announcement thinking back on the things he could have done differently to become valedictorian. He thought of extra credit assignments he might have skipped, chesed opportunities he might have ignored, and leadership chances he might have passed up. After going through everything, Tal decided on one personality trait that held him back: being silly. Although Tal was a very serious student, he loved joking around and playing pranks. For example, he was really good at imitating voices, so he would call his friends’ parents pretending to be a teacher. One time he called Tzvi’s parents as Rabbi Gaon and told them Tzvi threw a water balloon full of applesauce at him during class. Tzvi had to spend an hour convincing his parents it was a prank, but he appreciated it in the end.

Either way, Tal felt that being silly had led him to pass up a few opportunities; he didn’t take them seriously enough. If only he hadn’t been silly, he would have been the valedictorian! Tal went to bed that night regretting all the frivolous things he had ever done. As he drifted off to sleep Tal thought, “I would do anything to go back in time and make myself more serious. I will never be silly again.”

After a few hours of sleep, Tal woke and sat up suddenly. Someone was in the room! He was sure of it! He froze and listened intently. He finally heard a whisper: “Tal, help me.” Tal turned his light on. Nothing. “Tal, help me.” Tal looked down from his bed and saw a genie’s lamp sitting on the floor. “Tal,” came a voice from within the lamp. Tal grabbed the lamp, rubbed it, and out popped a genie. “Tal, thank you for freeing me from the lamp. To thank you, I will grant you one wish.” Tal was disappointed. “ONE wish? What happened to three?” The genie smiled. “You’ve been watching too many movies. Also, you already made the wish, Mr. Serious. Come on, let’s get to school.” Tal didn’t know what to say, so he just got dressed headed out the door to school, the genie at his side.

When Tal arrived at school, he knew exactly what day this was. He had gone back in time to the day they announced the class valedictorian. Although he wouldn’t get his chance to wish for a billion dollars, world peace or more wishes, Tal was happy that he was about to get the honor he had wished for. He followed his regular schedule, but was so nervous he could barely speak, and didn’t notice that nobody was speaking to him. Before lunch, the eight grade gathered in the auditorium for the big announcement, which was also the first time Tal tried to speak with anyone. “Hey Tzvi!” called Tal across the auditorium as the students filed in. “Come sit next to me.” Tzvi did not respond, instead sitting next to someone else. “Okay,” thought Tal. “I don’t need anyone sitting next to me. I just need that award.”

However, Tal was in for a surprise. Not only was Braindy named valedictorian, Tal wasn’t even mentioned as one of the three finalists. In fact, it seemed that Tal did not exist at all! Tzvi did not ignore Tal; he had no idea who Tal was. Tal confirmed this when he went to the bulletin board in front of the main office and saw that his name had disappeared from all posted lists that it had once been on. All at once, the room started spinning. Tal tried running to break free, but he kept going in circles. Finally, he saw Tzvi out of the corner of his eye. Tal grabbed his buddy and actually felt Tzvi’s shoulders! Maybe he did exist after all! Tal began to shake Tzvi “Tzvi what’s happening to me! Tzvi! Tzvi!…”

Tal woke a minute later shaking his pillow and yelling, “Tzvi! Tzvi!” at it. Once he realized what he was doing, he stopped and took a deep breath—it was all a dream! (But of course you all knew that.) But what did it mean? Tal thought for a moment and realized. Just like each member of Bnei Yisrael is equally as important as the next, each part of our personalities is equally as important at making us who we are. We can’t just throw away parts of ourselves when they get in the way of what we THINK we need. With awareness that we stand “lifnei Hashem,” we can more easily appreciate everything about ourselves. Hashem created us a certain way, which might mean
we are going to achieve everything we think we should, but we will succeed in so many other ways.

With this new attitude, Tal no longer regretted losing out to Braindy, and stopped wishing away his silliness. Tal realized all the good he could do with the midot Hashem gave him, and decided to use them for good. He became a world-famous mitzvah clown, brightening the days of thousands of sick children and adults around the world. Oh, and he was named valedictorian of his class at clown college.


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at  [email protected].

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