The death of a great leader is felt across an entire nation. The Jewish people have unfortunately become very familiar with this sentiment over the past year, in which many of our greatest Gedolim and leaders, including Rabbi Steinsaltz, Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Twerski, and more, have left us. They leave behind a legacy built from decades of leading, inspiring, and shaping the Jewish world. As we are about to celebrate being led out of Egypt by Moshe Rabbeinu, the most famous Jewish leader of all, it is hard not to look at the enormous vacancies these Gedolim leave behind and wonder: Who could possibly come to fill them? Who will be the next generation’s Gedolim?
Going all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu, Judaism has always placed a strong value on leadership. In Parshat Yitro, Yitro helps Moshe set up a system of courts to lighten the load of leading an entire nation. In his essay about the Parsha, Rabbi Sacks points out that under this new system, one in every eight men were expected to take upon a leadership role in the courts to help guide the Jewish people! Rabbi Sacks also notes that later Hashem labels the Jewish people as a “Kingdom of Priests”, and that in this case “Priests” can be interpreted as “princes” or “leaders”, meaning that we are a nation where everyone is holy, and everyone is a leader. In Judaism, leadership is not reserved for one person or dynasty. Every single person is not only capable, but highly encouraged, to help lead the nation in whatever way they can. One of the most integral values of Judaism is that anybody has the ability to shape the future of the Jewish people!
My fear is that many capable current and future leaders are limiting themselves from becoming the future Gedolim due to a false sense of humility. In trying to convey the significance of our greatest leaders, we often mistakenly portray them as untouchable figures, who are so high up that we could not even hope to reach their accomplishments. This attitude risks perpetuating the idea that we shouldn’t even try. A common teaching is that Moshe, despite being the most humble man in the world, was still able to lead the nation. One might think that being humble would stop one from holding a high position over others. However, true humility means being humble while still recognizing your own strengths and abilities, and using them to their furthest extent. We have many among us who have incredible talents, yet limit themselves by assuming that they couldn’t possibly reach the heights of our Gedolim. While holding our Gedolim in high stature is admirable, one should not be “too” humble to assume they themselves cannot accomplish similar feats. However, it is difficult to maintain this state of mine alone.
During my time at Rutgers University, I was very involved with the Rutgers Chabad House. One role I took on that I never imagined I’d ever do was becoming one of the Gabbaim. Davening was never my strong suit, and I was clueless to pretty much every aspect of it other than how to pronounce the words. One Shacharis (that I was likely guilted into), one of the campus Rabbis, Rabbi Shaya Shagalow, walked up to me, handed me some cards, and said “Meir, I need you to hand out the gabbai cards”. I was reluctant, but he pushed, and I went ahead and handed out some cards I barely knew the meaning of. This soon became a regular occurrence. It then led to needing me to call people to the Torah, needing me to say Misheberachs, and needing me to be Chazzan. Before I knew it, I was Gabbai (and much more fluent and motivated in my davening). All I needed was a push.
Everybody needs a push to move to greater heights. This applies to people of all levels and fields of experience. There is literally always room to grow, no matter how high up one already is, but it requires the push of others. During my time at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, one of the lecturers, Rabbi Yom Tov Glazer, would livestream every class he gave. When asked why, he explained that with modern technology, if you are creating something you feel is valuable, there’s no excuse to not share it with the rest of the world. So many people have amazing talents that they don’t believe in enough to show the world. Think of all your peers, students, and teachers that you see something great in. You have the power to push them higher! It’s very difficult to be confident in our potential all on our own. However, when others believe in and push us, that’s when we can truly soar.
We don’t have the luxury to simply mourn our Gedolim who aren’t with us any longer. The Jewish people need leaders now, and we don’t have the time to simply hope somebody comes along. We need to believe in and push both ourselves and our peers so we can continue the great work of those before us. This Pesach, when we commemorate the great leaders of the past, let us keep in mind that their work is far from over. The Gedolim and leaders of tomorrow are out there right now! Let’s build up the leadership of the Jewish people together! Am Yisrael Chai!