Following the Leader

January 28, 2015 by

Imagine you were one of the Jews leaving Egypt. You've got your wife and kids, very limited supplies, and the choice of heading into the vast, barren desert or cruising along a well supplied and populated road. What would be your course of travel? Parshas Beshalach begins with Hashem leading the Jewish people out of Egypt. The Torah tells us that He specifically did not lead them דרך ארץ פלשתים - the way of the Philistines because, as the verse says, כי קרוב הוא – it was close to Egypt and Hashem wanted to be sure His people wouldn't retreat to their origin if confronted by enemies. Amazing! Against our better judgment He took us off the beaten path to spin us around in circles in the dessert (Shemos 13:17-18, Rashi). Surely something must be learned from all this.

I recently heard the following story from Reb Dovid Orlofsky שליט"א. Rabbi Findel was one of the founders of the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. At that time many of the boys learning in his yeshiva were coming from unobservant families. As you might expect, his requirement that boys wear tzizis met opposition. Parents would tell him "The families here are not religious, as you are. Your school needs to reflect the community!" Rabbi Findel's response was phenomenal: "A yeshiva doesn't reflect the community. It sets the standards."

The truth is that most of us experience this sort of thing quite frequently. Every time your rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva, or even the Torah goes against your rationale; it's the same thing. The only question is – who's leading who?

There are well-meaning rabbis out there who are lead by their well-paying congregation. Are they pulpit rabbis or puppet rabbis? Do they say what their congregation needs to hear, or what they want to hear? Ever see a pop-up kollel? Offer 10 men $1000 a month and "pop!" you've got a kollel. There are kollels where the avreichim actually "clock-in". Are such places let by Torah or by money? What is setting the standards?

There are Rosh Yeshivas out there who are not fundraisers. There are avreichim who do learn l'shem shamayim. They may be the minority but that's where real Jewish leadership rests. Hashem took us off the beaten path and from our earthly point of view it looked insane. It's very likely that a leader will go against our better judgement and make us to think out of the box, but that's what makes him the leader. A leader's path can be hard to follow, but sometime that's what is needed.

So I ask you, are you following a leader or is he following you?

Leave a Comment