“Where are our leaders?” many people ask. But as the people, we should primarily ask a different question: “Where are the followers?” There are many qualified Rabbanim and mashpiim to lead us with the Torah as their guide, the question is if we are willing to follow.
By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier
In this week’s Pirkei Avos we read the following episode:
Said Rabbi Yossei the son of Kisma: Once, I was traveling and I encountered a man. He greeted me and I returned his greetings. Said he to me: “Rabbi, where are you from?” Said I to him: “From a great city of sages and scholars.” Said he to me: “Rabbi, would you like to dwell with us in our place? I will give you a million dinars of gold, precious stones, and pearls.” Said I to him: “If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a place of Torah.”
Why didn’t Rabbi Yossei accept the proposal and make it his mission to transform this place into a place of Torah?!
There are certainly many explanations to this but I’d like to share one which my father a”h gave. [My father’s birthday is this coming week and the bar mitzvah of my son, who is named for my father, is today.]
Notice, taught my father, that the man offered Rabbi Yossei to “dwell with us in our place.” He and his community wanted a rabbi who would conform to the place. They wanted an American-style rabbi, one who answers to a board and seeks to please his members by following their whims instead of leading them according to the Torah.
To this, Rabbi Yossei responded: I will only agree to lead a community that is willing to become a makom Torah, a place led by Torah.
In this week’s sedra we have the mitzvah to appoint a king. When the Yidden asked Shmuel HaNavi to appoint a king for them he was displeased. Did he not recognize that this was a mitzvah?
The Kli Yakar explains that the answer lies in a nuance. The mitzvah is to “set a king over you” but they demanded, “give us a king.” The purpose of a king is to be above the Yidden, to lead them and instill the fear of Heaven upon them. This, they did not want. They wanted a king who’d be devoted to them and answer to their needs and wants. And the Kli Yakar adds: “As is the custom to these lands that they accept a rav for a certain period of time so that he won’t be revered, on the contrary; he will be afraid of his community and will therefore be forced to placate and flatter them.”
The Rebbe once wrote to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht: The painful reality is that the community members push and pressure their rabbi, and the rabbi is afraid to take a stance out of fear that he may turn people away from Torah, so he concedes and makes compromises in Yiddishkeit.
“Where are our leaders?” many people ask.
But as the people, we should primarily ask a different question: Where are the followers?
There are many qualified Rabbanim and mashpiim to lead us with the Torah as their guide, the question is if we are willing to follow.
Am I looking for a rabbi who’ll entertain me in shul, or one who’ll enlighten me with the truth? Do I have the humility to accept his guidance even when it conflicts with my way of thinking?
The mishneh says עשה לך רב, assume for yourself a master. Meforshim explain that the word עשה also means to force. We must accept our rav even when it’s difficult.
However, the word עשה can also be translated literally as “make for yourself a master” and be interpreted facetiously to mean that we should make our own master, custom-design him to suit our desires and not lead us beyond our comfort zone. And we’ll fool ourselves into thinking that we’re actually fulfilling the directive of the mishneh.
Having a true leader to follow is a gift, and to a large degree it’s up to us whether or not to utilize this gift.
 Igros Kodesh vol. 18 pg. 513.
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