Spirit of Change verses kotzer ruach

21 Jan

As I write this Tuesday installment, it is only two hours since President Barak Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.  I listened to it live here in Israel on my MP3 player while riding the bus home from Jerusalem.  I was moved.  I was proud….and  even the Israeli radio announcers who were busy simultaneously translating every word of Obama’s inauguration speech  – they too were quite impressed.

He said nothing new, nothing unexpected – but he spoke with great confidence and painted a vision for a brighter tomorrow.

As you know, Israel’s gift to the new president was the pull-out of every last Israeli soldier from the Gaza Strip.

Mazal tov, Mr. President.

And while there is a feeling of a great sense of accomplishment here after our short 3-week war with Hamas, there is also a  lot of confusion, a lot of dismay.  Why is that they can still fire rockets?  Why is it that Gilad Shalit has not been returned?

Why is it that the world cannot understand our desire to live normal rocket-free, suicide-bomber free lives?

Why is is that no matter what serious steps we take to defend our people and our country, it is always the same: the world will always invent new ways to find fault.

Frankly, even  amidst the joy of reuniting with our beloved sons, fathers, husbands who are returning from the front-lines,  we are not celebrating like the millions of Americans this day in Washington, D.C.

Maybe the best way to describe our feelings would be with words right out of the parasha – we are suffering from a clinical case of  kotzer ruach – of deep disappointment.

Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni commented today during a speech she was giving in Rishon LeTzion, “I’m jealous of what is happening in the US… I wish Obama well; the leader of the free world. Israel is part of the free world and his success is our success.  I hope that on February 11 [day after Israeli national elections]there will be the same spirit of change here. I want people here to also feel the day after the election that they have power and hope.”

Listen, Ms. Livni, it is one think to “want” that, and a whole other thing to make it happen.  For there to be exhilaration and hope in the wake of the upcoming elections,  the candidates will need to realize that it is not magic – it is the result of clear communication and a well thought out vision.

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As an example, what happened at the beginning of Parashat Vayeira when Moshe delivered  God’s words of encouragement to the Israelites?

Say unto the children of Israel saying: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, which I vowed to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you as an inheritance: I am the LORD. (Exodus 6:6-8)

These were some very inspiring words – or so one would think.  The Torah tells us that Moshe conveyed them directly to the people, but they would not listen. The Torah reports to us that it was because of their disappointment (kotzer ruach) and hard work.

Kil Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Lunchitz, 1550-1619) explained this passage in an intriguing fashion.  He suggests that Moshe actually misunderstood their reaction.  Their lack of enthusiasm led Moshe to believe that they did not want to leave, that they lacked the spirit, lacked the initiative to play their role in fulfilling the terms of the 400 year old covenant.  In fact, that was not the case.  They wanted to believe, but the fact that there was no mention in Moshe’s words as to how God was going to deal with Pharaoh, they assumed that they were going to have to force their way out of Egypt by themselves, and the hard labor and earlier disappointments had got them down. We know that – the Torah tells us that this was the reason – but Moshe had misunderstood. And it is for this reason that he questions God when He tells him to go speak with Pharaoh, saying, “The Israelites did not listen to me, why should Pharaoh?”  That is, if Pharaoh sees their lack of enthusiasm and desire to leave, why should he consider sending them out?

Moshe misunderstood. They wanted to believe, but could not trust that the leader who stood before them had a cogent plan to get them out of this mess. In the midst of their kotzer ruach they could not have confidence in the empty promise.

Unfortunately, it is kind of like that here in Israel.

Out of the three realistic candidates for Prime Minister, two have already led the country, without great success, and the third is “hoping” that on the day after the elections here in Israel, there will be great enthusiasm….

….at this rate, the only enthusiasm I can imagine will be the  great relief in knowing that the endless campaigning will be behind us!

Here’s to better times and new, inspiring visions….



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3 Responses to “Spirit of Change verses kotzer ruach”

  1. Tamar Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    Harsh words, Morey although well delivered. Nontheless, what will people (any people) do without hope?

    On another note, we do need to remember that one’s wishes and hopes are not always the same as another’s… and especially these days, when “individualism” is the name of the game, will there ever be a cause strong enough to gather the people to a one- certain way?

    Let’s hope for the best,

  2. Yanki Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    Harsh words! Not at all, extremely realistic! However Obama has no clearly stated plan other than ‘you can do it’ and Change is here! Where!?
    Lets’ not judge to fast!
    There was a great change in the States they elected a black president. Race should have nothing to do with anything but until yesterday it did!
    But so far that is the only change! And here in Israel we don’t even have that to look forward to!

  3. Mark Dembo Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 2:32 am #

    Hi Morey-
    Reading this from the US perspective, you really made me stop and think about why there is such a renewed sense of hope and optimism here.
    While Obama has an incredible message of hope and optimism, I think a large part of the renewal comes down to two key things:
    1) A sense of relief after eight years of misguided and failed policy, deception, lies, and utter arrogance of the Bush/Cheney machine, and

    2) Effective and sincere communication skills that have helped Obama rally people to the cause of change. While he didn’t say anything new in his speech yesterday, what came from his words was a sense of “We’re all in this together, and together we will all find out way out of this. ” He also is very open to say that he may not have all the answers, and that he’s open to hearing all good ideas to move us forward.

    I think it is his sincere and open communication and his ability to inspire people to want to become involved that won him the presidency and will be they key to his success.

    It’s the ability to inspire others to action that makes a great leader – not that the leader is the one that has all the answers.

    Perhaps that is what is missing right now in Israel, and is leading to the kotzer ruach.


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