When someone is teaching, they must connect themselves to the soul of each of their listeners, so that they are both sharing an idea, each using it and shaping it along the way. Moses’ sin of hitting the rock, explains Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, was in fact a failure to properly connect himself to his People. And, this is perhaps the same failure some of our Rabbis are committing today. Their inability to relate to the day-to-day issues of their congregants is not merely concerning; it’s a paradigm shift.
Reb Yisroel Odesser, the father of the ‘Na Nach’ movement, said that all the Rabbis of his time “were not tzadikim” and that he had “no connection to them.” It was this aspect of disconnectedness that he was referring to. Rabbis today take a test and get a certificate like a university degree. Our spiritual leaders of the past didn’t just take a test, however, they were consciously accepted by the collective, as the most refined souls of the community, with the most sensitivity to the needs of the congregation in which they found themselves. To me, valuing a person with a great mind alone is like valuing a beautiful empty bottle over a simple one that is filled with fine wine. Personally, I would rather be lead by a kind, moral person, than someone brilliant.
Rebbe Nachman explains that Moses’ staff represented his power as a leader, while the rock was meant to serve the needs of the community, in this case, water in the desert. Moses was meant to speak to the rock, to serve the need of each individual with compassion, to pray amongst the needs of each person. Instead, he forcefully imposed his own agenda with his staff, his power as leader. Today, we can see this approach in some pretty extreme forms.
However, there exists a different model for leadership. It’s old, but in my opinion resonates better today than anything else being offered.
In the nineteenth century, Rebbe Nachman supported a leadership style that we would be smart to take a closer look at. He emphasized a leader’s connection to his people, as a direct expression of their own personality and charisma. A leader is not a politician, a leader is a poet. Their leadership is an intimate understanding of their people’s needs, seen through the brilliant eyes of somebody who feels deeply the current running through the present day. They do not sit on an elevated platform looking down and providing an answer. At what point did shul Rabbis start sitting on a higher platform than their community during prayer services? Today, does this at times only exemplify and exacerbate some of the disconnection between our spiritual leaders and our spiritual seekers?! A leader stands eye-to-eye, and prays side-by-side, as a friend would.
Artwork by Ilan Block
That’s why a person must pray to connect to each listener before beginning to teach, because Prayer itself is the ultimate equalizer. Through Prayer, one encounters a clarification of their desires, and sorts out what is essential about him or her. It is on this common ground that we’re all striving to give solace to our collective yearning soul. I have found it very inspiring to pray on Yom Kippur in the synagogue I went to as a kid and seeing my childhood dentist crying out to Hashem to do tshuvah. It makes me realize that there is no essential separation between the dentist and the rabbi. And this, in it of itself, is the fruition of all prayers, for the moment we can be ourselves, without the masks and negative traits which stem from fear and distrust, all good is achieved, certainly in desire and we are already in the redemption together.
Practically, Rebbe Nachman is discussing giving over a drasha. It’s something every rabbi, of every shul, does every shabbos. When was the last time you heard a drasha that pierced your soul? How many times have you sat in shul while the rabbi speaks about the parsha, while your mind wanders towards more relevant things like happiness, fulfillment, work, and relationships?
If our drashas aren’t suited for us, how can the leaders who give them be?
We live in a time when people are searching for success and fulfillment, yet are being lead by people who simply graduated from the right schools without necessarily having captured it themselves.
But maybe our priority should simply be connecting to each other in the search itself; finding an other in a word we speak and our self in a word we hear.
Perhaps we are reaching a time when we are truly a nation of teachers and we’re all becoming leaders, listening to each other. Perhaps Moshe Rabbeinu, when he said (Num. 20) “שמעו נא המורים” “Listen, rebels” before hitting the rock, was also saying, “Listen, teachers” foretelling of future generations who will also thirst, but not for water. They will also drink, but not because of a staff or platform. They will be each other’s students, and a generation of teachers.
We need to look to each other to lead. We must look no further. We already have friends who are compassionate and caring. Let us make them our rabbis and leaders. Let us finally end the one thing that the holy Ba’al Shem Tov himself said would halt the redemption: The Rabbinate.
Hillel has spent the past 10 years studying Torah, philosophy, music, economic science, and many other contemporary fields. He current works at a fruit store.
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