Friday, April 20, 2007


Our Gemora cites a compelling statement from Rav Dimi. He said, "Yeshayahu cursed Klal Yisrael with eighteen curses. Yet, he was not satisfied until he pronounced, "The youngster will behave insolently against the elder, and the base against the honorable." Yeshayahu uttered eighteen terrible curses, each one grave and serious with awesome ramifications. That was not sufficient. He wanted to deliver the final blow, the blow that would have the greatest effect. What was that curse that would outdo all the others, that would devastate Klal Yisrael's chance for survival? It was the one that pronounced an end to the authority of the zekeinim, elders, and talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. We cannot survive without their leadership.

Why is this? Why is Klal Yisrael so unique that it cannot exist without the institution of elders?

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum in his Peninim al Hatorah explains: Rabbi Akiva compares us to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly without its wings, so, too is Klal Yisrael helpless without its elders. A bird uses its wings to go higher and to remain airborne. Otherwise, it will fall to the ground, a helpless broken bird. Without its leadership, Klal Yisrael will not only not go forward; it will actually fall and cease to exist. A generation's greatest disgrace is demonstrated when the people do not show respect to their gedolim, leaders. How shameful is it when people refer to gedolei haTorah in the most pedestrian terms? The arrogance of the common Jew, his self-declared scholarship, provokes chutzpah towards our leaders. One cannot accept leadership from another if he is filled with himself.

The Satmar Rebbe, zl, once set forth criteria for a gadol to be accepted. He must first be a talmid chacham, totally proficient in all areas of Torah erudition. Secondly, he must be a yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing person, who will not adapt his psak, halachic decision, as a result of outside pressures or personal vested interests. Third, he must have special, common sense. He must possess an acute ability to understand and deal with all people. He should be able to ferret out those who would undermine the Torah way of life. A gadol is the embodiment of Torah; he reflects it in his total demeanor. To respect a gadol is to respect the Torah. To deny a Torah leader the respect he deserves is to challenge the Torah itself.

One of the distinguished laymen who heard the Satmar Rav's comments questioned him regarding a certain rav who fit the criteria, yet whose views regarding Orthodoxy were in contradiction to the Satmar Rav's. The Rav responded that indeed the gadol in question truly "fit the bill," but was deficient in one area. He was not "meshamesh," did not serve in such a capacity that he understood how to deal with the incursions against Torah Judaism. Only certain rabbonim, such as those who served in a number of the larger communities in Hungary, in which they were compelled to fight a holy war to preserve the sanctity of Torah and mitzvos from those who would do anything to impugn and destroy the Torah way of life, were able to impart lessons based upon their own life's experience. The Satmar Rav was an individual who, in addition to being a brilliant talmid chacham and pikeach, had absorbed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge from his rebbeim, who themselves were the gedolei Yisrael of the previous generation.

It is written [Devarim 1:13]: Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads. (1:13)

In a play on the word "and I will appoint them," the Midrash changes the "sin" to a "shin", transforming the word to "and I shall hold them guilty". The Midrash is teaching us the importance of listening to our spiritual leaders. If they lead properly and the common people still do not respond with respect, the people are liable. They cite an interesting analogy. Once a snake was sliding along its path, when the tail began complaining to the head, "Why are you always in the front with me dragging along behind? I want to lead, while you follow in the rear."

The head responded, "Very well. We will switch positions, and you will lead. Since the tail has no eyes, we can well understand what happened. The snake fell into a pit, then it was singed by fire. Finally it was scratched by a thorn bush into which it had run. The fate suffered by the snake was to be expected, given the fact that the tail had guided it.

Similarly, when the common Jew attempts to usurp the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael, we are beset with bruises -- and in many instances -- serious injury. Our Torah leaders are the "eyes" of the nation. They lead because they have vision. They have the necessary perspective to guide the people on the correct and safe path.

Even the best leader will succeed only if he has the respect and approbation of the people he is to lead. One earns this respect by virtue of his character and scholarship. At times, however, the people themselves are not worthy of their leadership, not recognizing the leaders' virtue and capabilities.

Rabbi Scheinbaum continues : Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that when the youth lose respect for their elders -- when they wrest the reins of leadership away from those whose wisdom is tempered by life's experiences, from a leadership whose counsel is inspired by the Torah giants of a previous era -- Klal Yisrael is as good as dead. This is not life! Indeed, such a circumstance represents the greatest curse. A nation whose leadership is not "mekabel," will not accept advice from their elders, who are obsessed with their arrogance and sheer chutzpah; who denigrate the authority of their elders and render decisions based upon their own brash ideas, and shaped by their own vested interests, is not living a Torah life. Such a generation does not truly live.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that the Jewish people are unlike other nations, in that they cannot survive without the institution of "zekeinim," elders. While other nations manage to survive without the leadership of sages or elders, our uniqueness renders our elders an essential prerequisite for our existence, rather than a mere luxury. It is Rabbi Akiva who says, "Yisrael is likened to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly away without its wings, so, too, is Yisrael helpless without its elders." Rav Chaim explains that a bird without its wings is in a worse situation than an animal who never had wings. It remains a helpless, pitiful creature, victimized by any creature bigger and more powerful than it. Klal Yisrael without elders is just like that bird. It cannot survive. Undermining the power of our elders is tantamount to striking a powerful blow to the core of the life force of the Jewish People.

Horav Yechezkel Abramski, zl, put the idea into perspective with the following illustration: Imagine sitting at a distance of one hundred yards from a given point and asking a group of people if they are able to see a picture at this distance. One person will say he can only see thirty yards, while another will see forty yards, and yet another will see up to seventy yards. Suddenly, someone comes along with incredible eyesight who can see up to one hundred yards! Indeed, if all of the other people would get together, they could nevertheless not see as well as he, because the sight is limited. Having them all get together is to no avail because the eyesight of the individuals is still deficient.

The same idea applies to our Torah leaders: They see what others cannot; their vision extends beyond the grasp of the average person. Thus, if an entire group gets together to express their opinion in opposition of one gadol, their position carries no weight, because they cannot see what he sees. Their vision is stinted; their perspective is myopic. This is the reason that our Torah leaders are referred to as "einei ha'am," the eyes of the nation.