EVERY SERIOUS-MINDED INDIVIDUAL who does not seek to shirk his responsibilities has a number of duties to perform these days. The difficulty with most of us is that we do not know how to decide what ought to come first, what is of primary significance and should be attended to immediately and what is secondary and can wait. We are confused in drawing the line between the important and the trivial. It takes a trained eye and a discerning heart, wisdom plus experience, to be able to draw up a good priority list of those matters that ought to receive our attention immediately, those that could be postponed.

Our sages tell us that even the elders of our people in Egypt failed in this respect. Moses invited them to join him in pleading the cause of their brethren before Pharaoh, but only Moses and Aaron went; the elders withdrew one by one (Exod. Rab. 5:14). Surely these venerable men did not refuse to go because they had a ball game to watch or a party to attend. The very title Zekenim --elders-- describes them as serious-minded men who were deeply concerned with the welfare of Israel. Why then did these leaders refuse to go with Moses and Aaron to plead for their people, The explanation is simple! Those men failed to grasp the tremendous significance of that mission. They just did nor realize that that the was the greatest need and the most striking challenge of the hour. So, one by one they slipped away, and left it to Moses and Aaron to argue and plead with the hard-hearted tyrant of Egypt. Moreover, we do not find any record in the Bible that the elders were sorry for this dereliction. They must have felt that they could spend their time better by rendering other important services to their brethren; that Moses and Aaron could be relied upon to do a good job without their help.

But God had an entirely different view on the matter. His displeasure with their conduct is recorded in the Torah. At the great historic moment of the giving of the Ten Commandments, God said, "And they shall not approach" (Exod. 24:2). The elders were told not to accompany Moses to the peak of Mt. Sinai. Thus, their failure to sense what came first, their inability to appreciate the importance of going with Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to free their people, disqualified them from leadership.

If an inquiring reporter were sent to find out the opinion of Jewish men and women as to the most pressing problems of the day, what do you think the order would be? What do you think they would put first on their list, and what last? My guess is that most people would put business problems first, the energy crisis, the shortage in gasoline and fuel oil; then they would gripe about high taxes and family troubles. The resurgence of anti-semitism in Russia and the severe political and economic situation in Israel would come at the bottom of the list. With very few exceptions this would be the pattern and the order in which the problems would appear. But how can one read of the reversal of the European government's Middle East policy in favor of the Arabs, how can one read of the plight of our brerhren in Russia and of the cruel intention of the Arab Pharaohs to liquidate the State of israel --how can one be aware of all this and put business first?

In Czarist Russia, there lived a rich Jewish merchant who made a fortune by supplying the military forces with food. This man was not particularly charitable, but his piety knew no bounds. Just before the High Holidays he would rise very early in the morning and go to the Synagogue to recite Selichot, the special penitential prayers for that period of the year. One morning, the rabbi approached this wealthy Jew and asked him to contribute to a worthy cause. The man began to give all kinds of excuses in an effort to avoid giving. Business was not so good; too many requests were being made for money, etc. Thereupon the rabbi said to him, "Reb Chayim, I know you to be a believing Jew. What will you say to God on the Day of Judgment? How will you square yourself with Him?" To which the man replied that the very fact that he arose at four o'clock in the morning to go to Selichot and to daven with a minyan would be sutficient for him to find favor in the eyes of God. "My friend," the rabbi retorted. "You come in daily contact with the Imperial Army. You know that the army is divided into different departments and services. There is the infantry, cavalry and artillery. The soldier in each branch of the service has his own particular duty to perform. What would happen to an infantryman if he deserted his regiment and, on his own, went to serve with the cavalry? He would be court-martialled, wouldn't he?'" "indeed, he would," the merchant agreed. "That would be a serious breach of discipline. But what has it got to do with me?" "It has a great deal to do with you," the rabbi replied. "We, too are soldiers. We are in the service of the Lord. The Almighty has assigned to each of us a special task to perform. The great Torah scholars are the heavy artillery men. The ordinary scholars are the light artillery men. Those who are pious and observe every detail of the Law are the cavalry men. Those who give charity are the infantry. It is very clear that on account of your wealth, the Almighty has put you into the Charity Brigade where you can serve most effectively. Your responsibility is to help the poor and the sick, the orphan and the aged. Instead, I find that you have deserted your regiment and have joined up with the artillery men. Give me a generous contribution for the poor, and return to your own unit, or the Commander-in-Chief on high, will have you court-martialled."

This anecdote is a lesson in priority. Let us resolve to do first things first: Support by word and deed the Jewish State, give and get money for Israel, protest against the dangerous Middle East plan proposed by our enemies and the nefarious designs on our people by the Russian and Arab Pharaohs, and God will grant us the blessings of peace and freedom.

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