Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feet of Clay

How are you supposed to deal with the possibility of people whom you expect to hold up certain standards miserably failing?

A prominent kiruv personality on the lecture circuit lives in my neighborhood. I have heard him speak numerous times, and am quite aware of his erudition and charisma. And yet, when he leads us as the shaliach tzibbur (the prayer leader), he gives off the impression that he's engaging in something tedious, a chore that he can't finish soon enough.

A talmid chacham who I have known for the better part of my life, who is intimately involved with community affairs. The lack of respect and dismissive comments he makes about people who don't quite adhere to his idea of what a religious Jew is is appalling.

What sets these people apart from the rest of us is the fact that they are so closely associated with Torah, considered to be among those who have taken upon themselves to travel a special, lofty path. I understand that no one is infallible, but I worry that if we can so easily lose faith in these "junior level" personalities, there is a risk of seriously undermining the reverence we have for those who especially personify the Torah ideal.

Just a thought...


Neil Harris said...

Shmuel, your phrase, "fact that they are so closely associated with Torah..." is telling.

Even if one is "closely associated" doesn't mean that are a mentsch. We can hope that we are all in tune to what our strengths and weaknesses are, but that's not always the case.

I know someone who is a "gadol b'shas", has a massive library and has learned every sefer in it, but he turns off many because he is quick to dismiss others who are do not follow his derech.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that when we see something lacking in others, it is really a reflection of what's lacking in us. I write this only because I am always guilty of this and I see your post as a wake-up call to myself, so with Elul just a week away.

Thanks, man!!

Shmuel said...

Neil - I completely understand what you're saying. Perhaps I should have been clearer about what distinguishes them even from other talmidei chachamim: these are people who have accepted the yoke of leadership, communal responsibility. They are under public scrutiny always. It would seem that they would be conscious of very basic tenets of "mentschlichkeit"...

Neil Harris said...

Middos and erlichkeit are not on the radar for most people, committees, etc. Of course, groups like the AishDas Society (yes, a plug for Micha's org) are trying to change that.

The fact that the leaders that you wrote about exhibited the traits you observed means there's a glitch in the matrix.

The question is, what should be done?

With the kiruv person, one can wonder if he would daven the same way, if he was leading ma'ariv at a kiruv seminar for "newbies"? It could be he just was having a bad day.

With the second person you've know for a while, it depends if he made dismissive comments in public or private in your presence.

As someone who spent almost 8 years working in as a mashgiach for a community vaad, I know that my rav hamachshir (and community Rav) often felt very trapped being in the public eye.

Of course, it could simply be that they are not aware of the impact of their actions (like most of us).

Most social workers/psychologist will say that it's key to come home in a good mood. Even if you had a bad day at work, put on a smile. Why? B/C when you interact with a spouse or your kids and give the impression of being in bad mood, they think it's a reflection of your feelings towards them.

There's reason that R Yisrael Salanter held that one's face is reshus ha'rabim and outworldly showing you're upset is akin to causing damage to the public.