Nov 30 2017 Dvar Torah

Rabbi Ceitlin 270x306
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin

"Mensch of the Year"

Our family spent Thanksgiving weekend in Washington, DC, for my brother's wedding. The most recent bruhaha our capital is chatting about is who will be Time magazine’s "Person of the Year."

Once you review past names on the list, you begin to wonder if its even an honor.

Adolf Hitler was Man of the Year in 1938, the next year went to the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and then again in 1942. Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the pick of 1979, and Yasser Arafat was hailed a "Peacemaker" in 1993 between his terror activities.

The absurdity of the title was once pointed out by the Rebbe. In Yiddish, a man is called "mensch." The word mensch has also come to mean a person of integrity and honor.

The Rebbe asked why is a person honored as being a mensch for only a specific year. "If he was not a mensch last year, and will not be a mensch next year, then this year too, iz ehr nisht kein mensch (he is not a mensch)!"

He said this in 1972, but it echoes loudly nowadays as powerful icons and public figured whose professional work is admired by many are being exposed for being anything but a mensch in their personal conduct.

The Jewish sages drew insight from this week's Torah reading of Vayishlach on how one can stick to being a mensch and "not come to the hands of transgression."

They repeat the 3 questions that Esau posed to the messengers of his brother Jacob, "To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and for whom are these before you?"

These questions are a reminder of our expendability in G-d's world and how we should be living with a sense of purpose. We are encouraged to be "the mensch of the year," the best mensch we can be, this year and every year.