Many times people refer to our generation as directionless, pleasure seeking and yoke breaking. The verse; “In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his eyes (Judges 21:25)“ is often quoted about our generation and we say; “Oy, its just like it was back then, terrible times, people were doing what they want to do, no kabalas ol (accountability).” We mistakenly think that Monarchy, fear and intimidation was needed but no, true leaders were needed, and yes they were called “Shoftim” Judges!
Do we really think that until Israel had a king everybody was acting crazy? An honest glance through Jewish history will tell you that Bnei Yisroel had highs and lows with a king and without a king. It is true that difficulties may have occurred because of not having a leader or judge or prophet. But lets think here, one may venture to say that Bnei Yisroel got hit worse with the advent of kings. Idolatry and other transgressions were always problematic post and pre Israelite monarchy. Consider the split of Israel and Yehuda which brought on the sad event of whole tribes, half of Israel, being exiled and ultimately lost till the messiah comes.
The Abravanel, who, ironically, was a powerful and fearless Judge in his commentaries on Tanach, is probably the only commentator who looks at the issue of kingship from all sides, explains that kingship was never needed in Israel. Shoftim and Neviim were actually what Hashem had in mind. As we mentioned, kings (besides those who were like David Hamelech) made things much worse and difficult for Bnei Yisroel. The fact that David Hamelech was a great king was, according the Abravanel, a breath of fresh air. Because of this Hashem was pleased with him as a good example for future kings, But we asked for Kings, and Moshe Rabbenu warned us that we would. That’s the simple meaning of why Hashem was angry with the Jewish people for asking a king and why they never had a king until then.
Primarily, the book of judges describes a time when people followed what they knew was right in the eyes of Hashem as taught by Moshe Rabbenu and subsequent leaders of the Jewish people. Precisely because of this natural and simplistic beauty of Judaism, the almighty was upset when the Jewish people asked for a king;
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you (Samuel 1:8).
What did they need and what were they lacking? fear, monarchy, intimidation? Non of the above. They simply needed another Samuel, another Judge;
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations (Samuel:4-20)”.
The Talmud explains that the Shofet “Yiftach, was in his generation is like Samuel in his generation”. (Rosh Hashana. 25b). This statement shows the status of shofet was leadership like that of Shmuel. In fact years earlier, Gideon was offered the throne over Israel. He refused it saying, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you (Judges 8:23)”. This was why Israel went some 400 years in the Promised Land without a king. It was actually a good thing! There were no claims of Kingship in Judaism and all that was need was compliance with the Torah to the best of your ability.
Now coming back to our times, Rabbi Steinsaltz in a recent article titled “Who will be our rabbis?” posed a question; who, then, is worthy of being a rabbi, a “head” for the People of Israel? I got the impression that his question for us was much deeper than I originally thought. I think he was asking about and looking for a leader of all the Jewish people. I think he was saying that we need a Rosh of Israel as explained in the chasidic work called the Tanya ; A Tzadik, a Rebbe who can be a head, Rosh, of the Jewish people. Rabbi Nathan Cordozo in his article “In Search of a New “Posek haDor” also expressed the need in our times for a true leader.
One may venture to say that any true Torah thinker and leader can’t help but to wonder the same question; Where are our leaders? But I think we should be asking a better question. Let’s ask; how do we produce, rear, or create leaders? I believe the answer lies in this very fact that the pre-monarchical period produced a certain type of leader; judges!
The ability to lead is deeply embedded in the ability to judge properly as we see many times in the Torah regarding the Mitzvah of being a righteous judge.
“You must not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and subverts the words of the righteous (Exodus 23:8). True leaders, encourage people to think and judge for themselves according to principal that are philosophical sound based on the Torah.
Perhaps this is the secret of leadership. To promote a type of thinking which holds no man higher than the law and the ability to lead others in the way the Almighty commands irrespective of family name, place, sect and denomination. True leadership forms in a time and place where people can judge things for themselves according to the Torah in an unbiased way and earn people’s trust without coercion.
Do we see this in sight? Are we promoting people to think for themselves? Are we telling those who are soul searching in Judaism to judge for themselves and look for truth beyond Comradery and the fancy kiddush?
Today we are anointing rabbinical kings based on money, family ties and grand old family names. This promotes fear more then understanding. Often I ask myself; Is Modern orthodoxy the only sect which is keeping the spirit of free thinking Torah centered Judaism alive today? For this very reason, we were deeply hurt at the passing away of Rav Ovadya Yosef Z”L, since he was one of the few true Gedolim of our times that believed in the power of true judgement and leniency.
Over the past few months many articles have been chewing on the recent findings of the pew report which implied that according to the census taken Jewish life is on the decline. These rebuttal articles came from every sector of Judaism; Modern orthodox, Chabad, Aish Hatorah, conservative circles and more.The bulk of critique that followed was that people ought to be judged as individuals and not by those old name tag denominations.
Indeed, many Jews today are seeking and searching for authenticity and a group that sparks their mind heart and soul. But I have a piece of advice; stop looking for dynasties and monarchy and start looking for those who encourage you to learn Torah and serve the Almighty to the best of your own learning irrespective of name, sect, or financial gain. That is how you can become a leader and that is how true leadership is born.
Rabbi Baruch Kosover in the introduction to his great work “Amud Avodah” put it right when he said; “don’t judge me wrongly, since i am not as famous as others for sometimes a pearl is found in the pocket of a pauper and words of truth are recognized on their own merit but because of our many sins, wise men in our times will not listen to truth in Torah since they are only looking for status.”(Amud Avodah).
The true leader will be fearless not because he is bold and arrogant but because he pledges allegiance to no man except the Almighty, and judges for himself according to the light of G-d’s Torah.