Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Jewish Leadership and the Megillah: Wise Words from my Rebbetzin

The Megillah ends with an ominous note (Esther 10, 3): 'For Mordekhai the Jew was second to king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all all his seed.'

Rashi (ad loc. citing Megillah 16b), commenting on Mordekhai's less than enthusiatic reception by the members of the Anshe Knesset ha-Gedolah, notes that some members of the Sanhedrin separated themselves from Mordekhai because he embarked upon a political career and, as a result, was forced to cut back on his learning.

This comment troubles me, and I would like to believe that Hazal and Rashi were being sardonic. After all, Mordekhai had been (together with Esther) the vehicle by which God worked an unparalleled salvation. What was so wrong if he were to stay close to the king, and look out for the safety of the Jewish People? He didn't give up learning. He simply balanced learning and public affairs. (This is borne out by Hazal's discussion of Joshua in Megillah 3b. Joshua wasn't rebuked for cutting back in his studies. He was criticized for not learning. The same point is made in today's Daf Yomi [Sanhedrin 16b) in a discussion of King David.) On the contrary, balancing study, prayer and pursuing a living was considered a hallmark of that venerable community, the Sacred Community of Jerusalem (קהלא קדישא דירושלים as described in Qohelet Rabbah parsha 9 s.v. re'eh).

On the contrary, as my wife pointed out to me yesterday, Torah leaders are duty bound not to separate themselves from the community; not to confine themselves to the walls of the Bet Midrash. If they do so, they endanger the souls of those whose eyes turn to them. Leaders who lose touch with their people can no longer lead. (Again, see the story of King David in today's daf.)

When she said that, I was struck by the fact that it explained the strikingly different way in which the Torah describes Moses' prophetic initiation, as opposed to that of Joshua.

When Moses encounters God at the Burning Bush, He tells him Ex. 3, 3):
And He said: 'Draw not nigh hither; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground.' When the angel appeared to Joshua, though, he told him (Josh. 5, 15): 'And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua: 'Put off your shoe from off your foot; for the place whereon you stand is holy.' And Joshua did so.'

Why was Moses bidden to remove both shoes, while Joshua was told to take off only one shoe? Hazal and most commentators explain the difference in light of the qualitative difference between Moses and Joshua. While both were deemed 'Servants of God' (עבד ד), Moses was inimitable. As Ibn Caspi (Adnei Kesef, ad Joshua, ad loc.) notes, Moseswas able to totally transcend hi physicality, while Joshua was only able to ascend half way (i.e. one shoe) to the heights achieved by Moses.

That's fair enough, but recall that God was emphatic that Joshua must be the one to bring the people into Eretz Yisrael, not Moses. I think the reason was that while Moses was able to lead, in the desert, while being constantly in a higher realm, no other leader was able to do so, nor was it desirable for him to do so!!! You need, please excuse the triteness, one foot on the ground in order to lead. You need to be connected to reality in order to apply God's Will and dictates on earth.
Even Halakhic Man may impose halakhic categories upon reality, but he's anchored in reality.

Too often, we think that the hermit, the withdrawn Gadol ba-Torah, is the ideal type. Such thinking is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong. The challenge of the Gadol is to be of both this world and the higher realms. We need to be led by human beings, not be angels.

So, with all due respect to those Sanhedrin members who clucked their tongues at Mordekhai; he was right. Interestingly, Hazal thought that Mordekhai was actually the prophet Malakhi.

As my rebbetzin noted, only by being part of the people can you responsibly serve God's people.


Shlomo said...

The simple meaning of "ratzui lerov echav" is like "berov am hadrat melech". Rov=many not most.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

OK, but that only emphasizes my point. Rashi, though, seems to have understood it as most, as opposed to מקצת.

Anonymous said...

The Sanhedrin were the political and religious leadership in E"Y. Mordechai was in galut. They probably felt the same way about Mordechai that most religious zionist feel (or should fee) about Orthodox Jewish members of the NYS Assembly or NYC Council, or Mayors of certain North NJ townships