Not Limited To Pots And Pans - A Response To Chabakuk Elisha
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen commenting on Leadership:
The holistic wisdom of the Torah relates to all areas of life, and its goal is to develop a holy, caring, and just society. We are the people of the Torah, and the Torah sages of each generation are to guide our people on our journey through history. We therefore have a Divine mandate to bring our difficult ethical and spiritual questions to the leading Torah sages of the generation and to listen to them, as it is written, “You shall do according to the word that they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 17:10).
The “Sefer Ha-Chinuch” is a classical work on the Torah's 613 mitzvos, and in its explanation of the mitzvah to listen to the sages, it states that this precept includes the obligation to listen to the great Torah sages “in each generation.” The Sefer Ha-Chinuch also cites the following teaching of our sages: “Yiftach in his generation is like Samuel in his generation.” And it adds: “If a person transgresses this and does not heed the counsel of the great ones in Torah wisdom who are in that generation – in all that they teach and rule – he disobeys this mitzvah of action; moreover, his punishment will be very great, since this is the mighty pillar on which the Torah rests. The matter is known to anyone possessed of sense.”(Mitzvah 495)
The Sefer Ha-Chinuch speaks about listening to the “counsel” of the leading sages “in all that they teach and rule.” He does not seem to indicate that their guidance is to be limited to halachic matters, and that with regard to their outlook and views on the crucial issues of the day facing Klal Yisrael, we can ignore their counsel. On the contrary, their counsel is needed on the crucial issues of the day, for the Torah is “a Tree of Life” (Proverbs 3:18), and its life-giving wisdom relates to “all” areas of life.
Gedolim – leading sages – may disagree on an issue, and their followers are free to follow their own gadol, while maintaining respect for the other gadol who has a different view. In addition to respect, one must also have a sense of humility. If one does not understand the view of a gadol, one should not rush to assume that the gadol is naive, playing politics, or ignorant of reaility, chas v’shalom. This arrogant and disrespectful attitude is a legacy of the secular heretics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that mocked the idea that the Jewish people should be led by their Torah sages. These secular ideologues felt that Torah wisdom is limited to the kashrus of pots and pans and has no business addressing the great issues of life, especially the complex issue of life facing the Jewish people. As we approach the Days of Awe, we should tremble before giving support to such a view – one which degrades and diminishes the greatness of Torah and its sages.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld were two gedolim who disagreed about the way in which Torah-committed Jews should relate to the secular Zionist organizations; nevertheless, both would disagree with the view that they should be silent on this issue and that gedolim are not to lead our people on this and other issues facing us.
Rav Yosef Baer Soloveitchik also disagreed with this secular view. In his poetic eulogy for a gadol, Rav Soloveitchik said:
“The very same priest whose mind was suffused with the holiness of the Torah of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer, of Abaye and Rava, of the Rambam and Ravad, of the Beit Yosef and the Rama, could also discern with the holy spirit the solution to all current political questions, to all worldly matters, to all ongoing current demands.”
Those words were written in 1940, as part of a eulogy for a great Lithuanian gadol and leader, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski.
On Rosh Hashana, we pray to the One Who desires life. Let us therefore not limit the power of the Tree of Life, whose branches embrace every area of human existence.