The earth seemed to move this past week as this ‘Lipa’ concert saga unfolded. Many decent, ehrliche people were disoriented by this episode that raised so many questions and provided precious few answers. This was compounded by the fact that the incredible power of the Internet served as a digital echo chamber which magnified every twist and turn of the narrative throughout the week.
The most challenging questions, however, are perhaps not those regarding the particulars of this incident, but rather those that are more global in nature. What do we tell our grown children when they come home from school and relate what they heard? More frightening and unsettling are the questions on the minds of many members of our kehilah kedosha, “I am disturbed by the imperfections in the Kol Koreh and I’m not sure I understand the message our gedolim are sending us”
If you are not at all troubled by this episode, as you have complete and perfect faith in the far-reaching vision of our gedolim – even when you do not understand what they have done – this column is not intended for you. It is directed at those who find this incident to be troubling and feel that it undermines the trust we have in the gedolim and the wisdom of the Torah which they represent.
I strongly feel that we are at a critical junction in our communal lives, and that our personal responses to this challenge to the hierarchy of our kehila will have long-term ramifications as we parent our children in these very challenging times as all of this is playing itself out in the full view of today’s very street-smart children. With that in mind, as the adults, we better think long and hard, about our comments and responses, as we try to sort things out for ourselves.
I suggest that a useful moshel for this discussion is to compare the relationship we have with the gedolim to the relationship that we have with our parents. There is an adage about raising teenagers that has more than a bit of truth to it. It goes as follows: “When you were a child, you thought your parents could do no wrong. As an adolescent, you thought that you parents couldn’t do anything right.” With that in mind, I think that in many ways we vacillate back and forth between these phases when we think about our leaders. On the one hand, we firmly believe in emunas chachamim and the da’as Torah of our gedolim. On the other hand, we seem to be unfairly blaming more and more of our communal problems – parnasa, shidduchim, teens-at-risk, etc. – on our leaders, and not accepting responsibility for the many choices that we make.
If I may go back to the parenting analogy, with the passage of time, as we mature into adulthood, we recognize that our parents are not perfect, but we admire and love them just the same. That is the mature level of appreciation which every healthy adult achieves with his or her parents – usually after marriage or upon the birth of their first child.
If you relationship with our leaders is fully mature, tovo alecha bracha. However, those who are currently in the adolescent phase, I suggest that, for the sake of the children, you very quickly realign yourselves to the third, mature phase. Our gedolim are great and elevated human beings. But human nonetheless. Our hashkafa does not promote the notion of perfection for leaders – only Hashem is perfect. One need look no further than the Torah, which did not spare our greatest leaders and recorded their misdeeds. In fact, according to the understanding of virtually all our meforshim, the Torah treated them k’chut ha’sarah (harsher than the letter of the law). And they still remained the tzadikim that we look up to and try to emulate.
Over the past 11 years, I have had the great zechus to seek the guidance, and even work with, many of our leading gedolim, and on many occasions, I was fortunate to see the far-reaching wisdom of their eitzos even if I did not fully understand them at the time they were shared with me. These individuals live simply and shun luxury. Many are far beyond the age of retirement, and no one could fault them if they chose to retire from a frenetic, public life and spend time with their children and grandchildren. Yet they graciously accept the incredible burden of communal responsibility with sincerity and dignity. We see them night after night participating at multiple weddings and other simchos, fundraising for the mosdos, and being available to listen to the sufferings of people who seek their bracha. We are burning them out, as my chaver Shiya Markowitz wrote in an excellent column that appeared in The Jewish Observer over fifteen years ago. And although this essay is not intended to discuss the particulars of this ‘Lipa’ incident, The unyielding pressure that we place on our gedolim, the flurry of calls, meetings, fundraisers, requests for haskamos and letters supporting various tzedakos which we bombard them with day and night may have contributed to any imperfections which you may feel “colored” this Kol Koreh.
I appeal to all members of our kehilah kedosha to be responsible parents, grandparents and community members in discussing the events of this past week. Adolescents have the imperative of remaining immature during their teenage years because adolescents don’t have children who watch their every word and gesture so carefully. As parents, we don’t have that luxury.
There are substantive issues that need to be addressed in light of the events of this past week. To do this, we need to have both of our feet firmly planted in a mature appreciation of our gedolim when we discuss them. For if we chose to take the immature route and speak negatively about our gedolim or their opinions, we will, in all likelihood, take our spouses and children along with us. Then, one day, when we mature, and wave our kids along to join us, they may, G-d forbid, just decide to stay right where they are.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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