Respecting our Gedolim by Yonatan Apfel


Megillat Rut begins with the Pasuk, “Vayhi Bimei Shefot Hashofetim,” “And it was in the days that the judges judged.”  The Chachamim translate this to mean “And it was in the days that the judges were judged.”  In other words, the words of the Gedolim were analyzed by the people – what they liked they kept, and they mocked everything else.  The nation, including many unfortunately unlearned people, judged the great Gedolim of their days and decided whether what they said was intelligent.  If they did not like what they said, they did not follow it – “Each man would do what was right in his own eyes” (Shoftim 21:25).  In Parshat Naso, which we read this year right before Shavuos, the opposite happens.  Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that anyone who has Tzaraat or becomes Tamei must leave the camp.  After that it says “As Hashem had spoken to Moshe, so did Bnei Yisrael do.” They did not question or laugh at Moshe's words; they recognized that everything Moshe said came from Hashem.  They may not have completely understood everything he said, but they followed along willingly.  This is not to say that they had completely blind faith; Jews are encouraged to ask, but they understood that Moshe knew what he was talking about.

The first Pasuk in Rut continues that there was a great famine.  The Yalkut Shimoni says that this was a punishment for violating the Torah, which is an inevitable result of “judging the judges.”  In contrast, a later section in Naso talks about Birchat Kohanim, which includes, among other things, a Bracha for peace, general happiness and contentedness.  Peace can only come when we follow and trust our leaders, our Gedolim.  They know far more than just a random person with a website or a newspaper or a crowd of people listening.  While we can ask questions, we cannot ridicule or spread Lashon Hara about our Gedolim, or do the opposite of what they say.  Without respect and acceptance of leaders, there cannot be national peace and happiness.

Parshat Naso fell right at the end of the counting of the Omer, a time when we mourn the deaths of Rabi Akiva's students.  According to the Gemara, they died because they showed insufficient respect to one another.  Whatever disrespect occurred between them must have been minimal – and yet they were all punished, because when people disrespect Talmidei Chachamim, they disrespect the Torah.  When people consider themselves smarter and better than them and laugh at what they say, as Korach and the generation of the Shoftim did, they are mocking and destroying all sense of leadership and guidance.  Such people come dangerously close to mocking and questioning the authority of the Torah itself (see Rashi to Vayikra 26:15).  When people denigrate authority and consider themselves superior to everyone else, then there is anarchy and misfortune.  However, when people recognize authority and follow those who are wiser and more learned and experienced than themselves, then there can be unity and Shalom.

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