In the wake of political turmoil occurring in Eretz Yisrael over the past 18 months, great controversies have gripped the Torah community, both in Israel and abroad. The issue of the role and responsibility of the Torah world towards the rest of the Jewish community in Israel has unfortunately become a flash point and focus of disagreement even amongst members of our own community.
As with most situations of machlokes, the conflicting point of view in framing the question is usually the point of departure. In the current case, one side considers it a basic point of mentschlichkeit to bear equal responsibility with one’s fellow citizens with whom one resides, in directly protecting the country militarily. The other side frames the question as one of understanding the primacy of Torah and Torah learning’s role in our nation’s wellbeing as the issue at hand. Each side blames the other for lacking consistency and honesty in maintaining its professed values and the resentment and animosity builds from there.
What seems to be lost in the mix, however, is the need to place close heed to and reverence for the directives, guidance and leadership of our Gedolim, Torah leaders. Many who would not make a move in personal matters or areas of strict Halacha without adhering scrupulously to our Manhigim, leaders, have no problem voicing their own opinion on matters of state and public policy, relegating the voices of genuine Torah leadership to an equal voice at best, or uninformed, backwards looking, self-absorbed and self-preserving misguided individuals at worst, R’L.
This is not a new phenomenon! No less an authority than Rabbi Akiva, (who was an extreme `Rabbi-basher’ in his pre-Torah learning days) asks in the Medrash Rabba (11:8) (also brought in Medrash Tanchuma) in the beginning of this week’s Parsha, why does the Torah tell us (first Pasuk) “And it was on the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and to his sons and to the elders (Gedolim) of Israel” (Vayikra 9:1). Rabbi Akiva, apparently questioning the necessity for the presence of the elders at the dedication of the Mishkan, since they served no visibly practical role (as opposed to the Kohanim), explains that the Jewish People are compared to a bird, and just as a bird cannot fly without wings, the Jewish people cannot accomplish anything without its Torah leaders. Hence the need for and purpose of the presence of the elders at this seminally important national event.
One of my rebbeim, HaRav Moshe Chait zt’l (Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, Yerusholayim (and great-grandfather of some very special Toras Emes students(!), questioned how indispensable are wings to a bird? It can still breathe, hop, eat and do everything else without wings. It just cannot fly. How is that comparable to “not being able to do anything?” He explained that this indeed is a precise analogy. Observe a bird that cannot fly. He is constantly looking about, constantly in fear. A bird on the ground is most vulnerable and in its greatest danger. Without wings its life is in constant jeopardy. To think a bird can exist without wings is a delusion. Similarly, to think Klal Yisrael can flourish without its Gedolim is the greatest mistake.
So many “religious” people have a very restricted view of the role of “Rabbis.” They (the Rabbis, in their opinion) are great functionaries but are incapable of understanding and dealing with modern life. To think that Jewish life can exist without Daas Torah (the Torah point of view as promulgated by the recognized Gedolim), however, is a fatal error. The fact that the point of view of the Gedolim on a particular issue is hard to understand and difficult to accept, doesn’t change the imperative to “not veer from their words to the right or to the left.”
The function of respecting and revering the great Rabbis and their opinions has ramifications for our children as well. Much of their learning and development depends on their relationship and respect they have for their own Rebbe or Morah. A child who grows up in a home where reverence for Rabbonim is high, is in a much stronger position to enjoy and succeed in his or her Torah learning.
May Hashem bless you and guide you in the critical area of proper Kavod HaRav.
Best wishes for an honorable Shabbos,