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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Politics, Sh'lach L'chah

Shlach: Rewarding Excellence

Submitted by on June 25, 2016 – 11:08 pmNo Comment | 3,299 views

Right not Fair

When my son joined little league I was surprised that all teams, losing and winning, received trophies. I realize that no one wants to brand their team a loser, but if everyone is rewarded, effort and excellence are not incentivized. It is only by rewarding excellence that we give others a model to emulate.

Separating Challah is a Mitzvah that demonstrates this very concept. A dough may only be eaten after we separate a portion to give to the Kohen (priest).[1] Once a portion has been separated, the rest of the dough may be eaten. The underlying statement is that some portions are holier than others. The separated piece is sacred – to be consumed only by a Kohen, the rest can be consumed by all.

So long as this simple truth is not confronted, the dough may not be consumed. It is only when we acknowledge this truth that we may partake of the dough and benefit from the world.

Disparity in Creation

G-d never set out to create equality. The first act of creation was the making of heaven and earth. One is higher and holier than the other. The second act was to create light and dark, night and day. One, is brighter than the other. G-d then separated the higher waters from the lower waters and dry land from oceans. G-d was clearly telling us that not all things are created equal.

The same is true of time and space. Israel is holier than the rest of the world. Jerusalem is holier than Israel. The Temple mount is holier than Jerusalem. The Temple is holier than the mount and the Holy of Holies is the holiest of all. The same applies to time. Not all times are created equal. Jewish festivals are holier than weekdays. Shabbat is holier than festivals and Yom Kippur is the holiest day of all.

There is a pyramid in creation whereby some things are holier than others. The vast majority of the universe is mundane, distant from G-d, some parts are holier, closer to G-d. The role of the holier is to illuminate and educate the mundane. The flow of creation is channeled through Jerusalem. The flow of time is channeled through Shabbat. The role of the higher is to nurture the lower. If we had all been created equal, we would have no one to lift us up.

Disparity Among People

The same is true of people. Of all people, G-d gave the Torah to a single nation and set them apart to serve Him. But they are tasked to be a light unto the nations. Of all Jews, G-d chose the tribe of Levi and set them apart to serve Him. But they are tasked to teach the nation. Of the entire Levitic tribe, the Kohen was designated to serve in the temple. But they are tasked with bringing the sacrifices of the people. Of all kohanim, G-d chose the High priest and set him apart to seek atonement for the nation.

On the holiest day, in the holiest place, the holiest Jew appealed to G-d to sustain the entire universe and to forgive the lowliest Jew. Once again, the highest nurtured the lowest.

The purpose of placing holier people among mundane people, holier times alongside mundane times and holier places with mundane places is to uplift the mundane. Of course the mundane one might grow jealous, but such jealousy can be good. It can be an incentive to join the ranks of the holy.

Anyone can join the chosen nation, all it requires is a genuine conversion. Anyone can join the ranks of the Levites, all it requires is a sincere desire to study the Torah and a commitment to devote one’s life to it. It won’t make you a Levite, but it will bring you to their level of holiness. If the lower are jealous of the higher, they are motivated to reach higher.

Treating everyone as equals indeed curbs jealousy, but it also prevents the more talented and successful from leading. Rewarding excellence is not about letting the excellent ones shine, it’s about letting them lead. Without leaders, without models to emulate, who will lift us up?

Everyone Is A Leader

Some are more talented than others. That is how G-d made us. This is not to say that they should be lauded for their talents. Those are G-d given and we can’t take credit for them. They should be lauded for their efforts. Those who make exceptional efforts to use their exceptional talents to succeed, should be lauded because their success motivates and incentivizes others. It is not about basking in brilliance, it is about lifting others up.[2]

In truth, no one is exclusively a follower, everyone can be a leader. Every single person is unique in their way and in that particular area, they can lead. Some are brighter, others are happier and others are more social. Rewarding excellence and effort doesn’t disenfranchise the followers, it enables them to lead. Enforcing artificial equality, prevents everyone from leading. Worse, it stunts everyone’s growth.

Unity Not Equality

We all come from the same creator. On our root level we are all one. It is like an embryo that has the entire genetic code in a single cell, but as the embryo develops, one cell separates from the pack and becomes a brain while another cell becomes a toe. They start out as one, but with time, they evolve.

The toe follows the lead of the brain without complaining that it’s unfair. The toe doesn’t argue that since they hail from the same embryo, it too should make decisions. There is only one brain, and everyone trusts it to make decisions. The toe is trusted to provide balance, something the brain can’t do without the toe. The brain is trusted to make decisions, something the toe can’t do without the brain.

Yet, they work together as a single organism, each benefitting from the contribution of the others and each respecting the unique qualities of the others. Being united doesn’t entail being equal. It entails respecting our differences, rewarding excellence and working together for the best possible outcome.

We now understand why the Mitzvah of separating Challah atones for the sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Our sages taught that the serpent was jealous of Adam’s glory and sought to bring him down a notch. The antidote to this is the separation of Challah – the proclamation that holiness and success should be publically acclaimed. Rather than bringing the best down a notch, we ask them to bring us up a notch.[3]

[1] Numbers 15: 20. Nowadays the piece of separated bread is burned to a crisp and discarded.

[2] Good teachers pair advanced students with slower students. Their aim is not to slow down the advanced student, but to improve the slower student.

[3] This essay is based on Toras Menachem v. 17 p. 11.

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