I just returned from the JNF Gala dinner where Entebbe Hero and previous IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz was special guest. He was Commander of the Israeli security force at the Entebbe airport that fateful night in 1976 and was tasked to oversee the successful evacuation of some 106 hostages held by terrorists. After recounting his experience at Entebbe, he succinctly highlighted some of Israel’s greatest challenges today and identified methods that would be necessary to overcome them. He stated that the Entebbe raid was one of the most spectacular military feats in all of history and if necessary, Israel would go to the same lengths today in order to save Jewish life and preserve Israel’s dignity. I must admit, I felt proud to have had such a courageous and selfless leader such as Mofaz and felt secure knowing that with G-d’s help, we will overcome any adversary that should come our way.
But this evening, after seeing many of the various projects that the JNF is undertaking in the Negev (South of Israel), I couldn’t stop thinking about one of Israel’s greatest leaders and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. You see, he had a desert home in the Negev, in a small kibbutz by the name of Sde Boker. On our recent trip to Israel, Chana Raizel and I visited his desert home and were astonished to find that it has been preserved exactly as he had left it some forty-five years ago. I walked through his dining room and into his bedroom. His slippers were still by the side of his bed and a few books were still open on his bedside table. I entered the kitchen and saw the tea towels that dried his hands and the ingredients for his morning stew that his wife dutifully made for him. I then walked into his study, looked upon his desk and gazed at the many rows of books in his vast library. His home was surprisingly simple and stark. His clothes were worn and (some garments) tattered. Yet this man – in the very room where I was standing – held important conversations and fateful meetings that would shape the course of Jewish history. I remember leaving Ben Gurion’s home with that same feeling that I experienced tonight as I left to go home. Inspired. I was truly taken by Ben Gurion’s incredible selflessness and commitment to his people – a trait that has been exemplified by many of our great Jewish leaders.
The month of Elul is a time for introspection and self evaluation as we prepare ourselves to greet G-d over the days of Awe. Interestingly, one of the customs during this month is to visit the grave sites of holy people. The reasons we do this are twofold. Firstly, so that G-d will accept our prayers with mercy in the merit of the departed Saint. Secondly, so that we will inspire ourselves with the legacy of the departed which will lead us to refine our characters and become better people.
At this time of year let’s actively seek out great leaders, achievers, thinkers and heroes (past and present) to inspire ourselves with their messages and to spur us on in achieving great things. In particular and as we have seen with the leaders above, let’s resolve to become less obsessed with self and more committed to others. In doing so, may we merit a Shana Tova – a happy, healthy, meaningful and peaceful new year.
Rabbi Yossi Friedman