Rabbi Yaacov Haber
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When Rav Yehudah HaNasi died his son suggested that Rebbe Chanina become the new leader of Klal Yisroel. Rebbe Chanina declined. He knew that he had qualified colleagues that had their heart set on the top job. The last thing he wanted to do was to cause grief to a Talmid Chacham. Rebbe Chanina took the third position in Klal Yisroel.
Rebbe Chanina ended up living very long. He often expressed that he wasn’t sure why he had merited such longevity. He told his students that there were two possibilities. Either it was because he gave up a career of great kovod so as not to hurt a colleague. Or because he was once traveling from T’veria to Tzipuri and he detoured from the road to give shalom to Rebbe Shimon Ben Chalafta. One of the two, he said, has given him longevity. (Koheles Rabba 7; 7)
Amazing. A Tzadik looks back at the entire panorama of his life, reminiscing through the milestones that made an everlasting impression on his heart and the hearts of others. He wonders why he was lucky enough to live to see grandchildren and great grand children grow up. Two episodes came to mind. There were only two incidents that could bring such merit. Was it his historic act of heroism, humbleness, selflessness and honor for Torah? After all, he gave up the highest, most prestigious job for the sake of another Jew! Or was it the 6 hour detour he took on his trip from T’veria to give honor to Rebbe Shimon?
What was his question? How could the two be compared, equated or even remembered at the same time? How could he doubt which of the two have earned him long years?
The answer is – this world is not built on heroism, it is built on the everyday acts of goodness that come up every hour of every day. It’s not jumping into fire; it’s calling your mother. It’s not fasting for weeks on end; it’s sharing your food with someone who has less. It’s not making speeches before thousands; it’s saying hello to someone who most people ignore. No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife, on the lawyer who didn’t take the drug money, or the daughter who held her tongue again and again. All this anonymous heroism are the healthy ingredients of this world. These are the things that Olam HaBA is made of.
Everyone wants to be a hero. Less people are willing to do the simple, everyday, unnoticeable, non-dramatic acts of being a mentch.
A Medrash. The Jewish Nation arrived at the banks of the Red Sea and started to fight. Each tribe wanted to be the first to jump in. While the argument went on Nachshon Ben Aminadav followed by the tribe of Benjamin made their way into the sea. The tribe of Judah watched the tribe of Benjamin walk into the water and started to pelt them with stones. Said Reb Meir – Because Benjamin walked into the water first they were honored that Jerusalem will be in their portion of the Land of Israel . (Talmud Sotah 36B) Because the tribe of Judah threw stones they became the Kings of Israel . (Tos. IBID)
We understand Benjamin and we understand their reward. While everyone was arguing they jumped in. They were heroes. They took the bull by the horns. They split the sea! What did Judah do that was right? What did Judah do that deserved royalty?
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The answer is that while the tribe of Benjamin was rewarded for jumping, the tribe of Judah was rewarded for not jumping. There was a reason for an argument. There were questions of protocol, of history, of philosophy, maybe even of Kabbala. The tribe of Judah said, “Don’t jump so fast. We all want to be superstars, but let’s do the right thing! Even if it’s not quite as glitzy as the others.” This maturity and selflessness is what earned the tribe of Judah royalty.