Friday, January 24, 2014
Solitude vs. Leading The Tzibbur
There is a saying: A day spent making mistakes is better than a day spent doing nothing. The gemara says that there were four people who died without sin. They were Binyamin HaTzaddik, Amram, father of Moshe, Yishai, father of King David, and one of the sons of King David. The only reason for their eventual deaths was because of Adam Harishon's (Adam - first man) eating from the eitz hada'as (tree of knowledge). Beforehand, man was not meant to die. By eating the fruit, Adam and Chava changed the nature of man, and he now became subject to death. But back to our four tzaddikim. Asks the Chasam Sofer, if these four died without sin to their name, then aren't they on a higher madrega (level) than the avos (patriarchs)? And furthermore, if they are on a higher madrega, why don't we put them up in our sukkas as the ushpizin (holy guests) instead than Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David? The Chasam Sofer answers that there were those on an elevated level throughout Jewish history that had the opportunity to go through life free of sin. Like our four tzaddikim, they could have spent time in solitude, contemplating their own spirituality, and accessing higher and higher levels G-dliness. But let's take Moshe, in contrast. He was the greatest of the prophets. He spoke to G-d panim el panim (face to face). He was chosen to be the leader over Bnei Yisroel, but because of his speech impediment, and because he wanted to remain in a state of receiving G-dliness in solitude, he was an unwilling leader. But ultimately, he surpassed his nature, and went out to become the greatest leader Klal Yisroel has ever known. And when a person mixes with other people, says the Chasam Sofer, he is bound to make mistakes. A leader, especially, is going to come into conflict and disagreement, and may later regret some of his actions. But this is what happens in life. If one remains in one's daled amos (four cubits), and prays, and learns, and worries only about his personal relationship with G-d, then he is not concerned with the other half of the Torah: Bein adam L'chaveiro (mitzvahs between man and his fellow man). One who is concerned with his fellow Jew will leave his quarters, leave the beis midrash, and go out and do good for the Klal, knowing well that he will have to compromise his own spirituality along the way.
I heard an interview with Rav Shlomo Amar, chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, the other day, part of which touched on this same subject. He said that years ago when he served as av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) in the city of Petach Tikvah, he would give shiurim (classes) and inspirational sermons in the local shuls and yeshivos. He spent great amounts of time on that, and soon realized that he was left with little time for learning. One shabbos he was in Jerusalem, and picked up a new sefer written by Rav Yonasan Eibshitz. He opened it up, and the following practically jumped off the page: "With all my learning and with all the piskei din (religious rulings) I write, there is no time as valuable as the time spent offering words of inspiration to strengthen others. This is equal in importance to all of my learning." Rav Shlomo was astounded by both the fact that he opened to that exact page and line, and by the message itself. His depression began to lift. He met soon after with Rav Ovadia Yosef, and told over the story. Rav Yosef said that this exact matter pained him, as well. "There is so much time that I am not learning Torah because I am busy inspiring the public," he said. In fact, in his sefer, Rav Yosef recounted that once when he was suffering greatly from this same dilemma, the Ben Ish Chai came to him in a dream. His message was that educating the public makes a great impression up above in the heavens, and it is very dear to Hashem. He commanded Rav Yosef to continue his work in inspiring others.