Erev Shabbos Parashas Vayechi 5773

Dear Parents,

In the brachos that Yaakov Avinu bestowed upon his children, Yehuda was singled out for leadership. What was Yehuda’s unique qualification that propelled him to be leader? From Rashi in Bereishis 49:10, it appears it was his willingness to stand back, reconsider his position (by Yosef in the pit) and even admit his responsibility (by Tamar), that marked him for greatness. The very name Yehuda means to admit, not to evade culpability by shifting blame to another.

In a lecture to educators, (Queens, NY May, 2011) Dr. David Pelcovitz, the well-known and highly respected psychologist, shared the findings of a recent study of neurosurgeons, conducted in conjunction with Penn State University. The question at hand was to find the single most important factor that differentiated the top 1% of neurosurgeons, those who lost the fewest patients, from the bottom 1%, those who lost the most patients.

Keeping in mind the high level of knowledge, the extraordinarily long period of training and the absolute precision of their work, the findings are most noteworthy. The difference was not IQ, nor the medical school attended and not the hospital in which they operate. The difference was how they reacted to failure, to losing a patient. The top 1% did everything possible to analyze what went wrong, did further research into the specifics, and did not rest until they came up with a better way to do it. The bottom 1% shifted the blame to everyone else: “What do you expect with such inferior nurses,” “the operating room is so primitive,” “they didn’t give me accurate information.”

The difference is so glaring. Success or failure depends upon a person who is willing to take responsibility for his or her actions. Blaming, passing the buck and just plain shirking are the hallmarks of losers and failures – by not taking responsibility, they are not capable of improving. Those who do take responsibility for their own actions are destined for success, because they are embarked on a journey of self-improvement.

This is especially true of children. If we allow them to make excuses, blame their behavior on factors outside of themselves, they will never learn from mistakes, and never grow. If, however, we encourage our children as to the value of taking responsibility and accepting the blame whenever warranted, we are giving them leadership qualities with which to succeed in life.

As with all Midos, we teach best by our example. Let’s re-examine our own reactions to mistakes we make. Do we own up to them, analyze what went wrong and look seriously for ways to avoid the mishap in the future? Or do we find all manner of external factors to explain the failure. It would be worthwhile to stop for a short while and listen to the actual words that come from our mouths – do we kvetch a lot? Is everything always someone else’s shortcoming that made success so elusive?

We may not be leaders of the stature of Yehuda, but we are leaders of ourselves and our family. We need to keep in mind the secret to Yehuda’s success.

Best wishes for an admittedly wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Kalman Baumann

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