The “Holy Jew” of Pryzucka1 once said: “First there were the prophets, but God looked and saw that the situation was deteriorating and that the prophets no longer were what they used to be. Then prophecy ceased, and the prophets were replaced by the Mishnaic and Talmudic Sages. After some time, they too, began to go downhill, so God brought the Geonim, but after a while that reality also began to worsen. The Geonim were then followed by the great Rabbis, the Rishonim and the Acharonim, but they deteriorated as well. So God brought the Chassidic Rebbes. And now,” said the Holy Jew, “I see that this, too, is about to deteriorate, but I do not know what will come after that.”
This is a statement not only about the changes that take place in reality, but also about the fact that in every generation and every period the Jewish people always has leaders. I do not mean political leadership: there are political leaders with considerable power in their hands, but eventually even the memories of the greatest dictators fade and they become exactly like their myriad subjects who were, in their eyes, like the dust of the earth. What, for instance, is left from Nimrod, the supreme political leader in the days of our Patriarch Abraham? Perhaps a few legends, maybe not even that.
In the final analysis, it is not the political leaders who change the world. Alongside them there are always people who actually mold and form the inner essence, even when they have no official function. Unfortunately, the prophets were not political leaders; rather, they were like bystanders who served as targets for insults.
Even the Prophet Isaiah who was of obvious nobility – as is reflected in his high style, and confirmed by our Sages who say (Tractate Megillah 10b) that he was the king’s cousin – attests (50:6): “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Yet the prophets are remembered much more than most of the kings, and have also had much greater influence both in their own generation and in the times to come.
In every generation there are leaders. They may be prophets or philosophers, technicians or scientists, inventors of new contraptions or mass media figures. They are the ones who actually set the course of the world. The most basic question is – who is a real leader? And the pertinent question for our generation is: are the rabbis, the contemporary leaders of Jewry, truly the leaders of this generation?
In the past century, the role of the rabbi has undergone a major transformation. The reasons for this are numerous, some of which are economic. However, the fact is that today, the rabbi’s position as a consultant on Halachic matters is not very relevant. How many people actually turn to rabbis with questions about kashrut2?
Today rabbis are being asked to solve totally different problems: husband-wife or parent-child relationships, and sometimes also faith issues. As such, the rabbi, who is not a trained marriage counselor, psychologist or philosopher, is forced to answer them. Consequently, nowadays rabbis are, unfortunately, dealing mainly with issues for which they have not been properly trained, and rarely are they dealing with those areas for which they did receive the proper training.
How can a typical rabbi who married at the age of 19 and has been living with the same woman ever since, truly help someone who is involved in a relationship with his friend’s wife?
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