The New Jersey Senate election last Wednesday kicked the election season into high gear. For anyone who has an interest in things political, this is one of the most exciting times of the year. It is a time when we get to see how the general populace actually responds to what has been going on in the world of politics; a time when we can see which pollsters were accurate in gauging public opinion. It is a time to see which public figures have lined up behind which candidates, and a time to see who acted judiciously in deciding whom to back.
But it is also a very unsettling time.
During the electoral portion of the political season, we are inundated with advertisements, mailings and pronouncements from various politicians and “community leaders” telling us who the best candidates are for our community. Regardless of what our Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshivah tell us during any given cycle, these well-intentioned activists have their own opinions on what is really important. There are times that they decide that assistance for social programs they administer are important in races where our Gedolim say it is moral issues. Other times they confuse what they read and hear on the conservative media and conflate the ideals of the political right wing with Torah principles (such as hakaras hatov). And then there are the instances wherein community activists decide that increasing their personal clout is the way to help the klal, in spite of the fact that this can come at the expense of the absolute values of the Torah.
This is, however, not confined to the world of American politics. We live in an age where everyone feels entitled to their own opinion, where each person thinks that they “know better.” There is a general (and arguably healthy) penchant for doubting authority in the world today, but it seems to have penetrated our world as well.
But our world is meant to be different.
We have only survived as long as we have because we have heeded the words of our Gedolim — even when we didn’t entirely understand the method behind their direction.
Harav Dovid Soloveitchik said that one can easily understand the difference between the chinuch of Avraham Avinu and the house of Besuel and Lavan. Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak from Padan Aram, and when he returned, Yitzchak accepted Rivkah as his wife unquestioningly.
In sharp contrast to that, when Eliezer wanted to leave Besuel’s house with Rivkah, and met resistance from her family, he was told, “Nikra lanaarah v’nishalah es pihah — Let’s call the girl and ask her.” Reb Dovid said this is a perfect contrast between a good chinuch, where children understand that the parent has unquestionable authority and will only make the right decisions for them, and a bad one, where children have the final say.
So, too, should be our approach to the Gedolim. A friend, whose father is a well-known Rosh Yeshivah, says that when he was growing up, his father always encouraged him to think for himself. He would ask him what he thought was the correct course of action to take in the different situations that arose. However, when it was l’maaseh, his father would have the final word, and my friend would never dare to act differently.
Yet, we complain when our children don’t act with deference to our wishes. We cannot understand why they act with intractability, when we mean their own good.
They say that someone once came to Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky, complaining that his children refused to listen to him. Reb Yaakov looked at him incredulously and exclaimed, “You wonder why your children don’t listen? Why, it’s because you don’t listen!”
It is precisely this “I know better” attitude that has been the cause of so much of Klal Yisrael’s suffering over the years of galus. But it is this attitude that drives the aforementioned “community leaders” and politicians into making political endorsements that are contrary to the calls of Gedolei Yisrael. It is that outlook that leads people who identify themselves as frum Jews to join together in the most vicious attack on Torah our generation has seen. And it is precisely this approach that can lead people who are in positions of influence in the frum community, when faced with the choice of heeding the directive of Gedolei Yisrael and taking a stand on an issue that isn’t necessarily easy for them to take, to abdicate that responsibility and discard the words of the Torah on the trash heap. They self-righteously proclaim that they know a better way to deal with the issue at hand.
More often than not, an outside observer can see the conflict of interest that blinds those making the decision to follow their own opinion. But if we understood that we are supposed to do what is right regardless of what our biases inform us, we would understand that there is only one way to go about that.
We need to stop thinking so highly of our own opinions, and return to listening to those who really are much greater than us.