When the Flock Leads the Shepherd


Moshe Ben-Chaim



What is the role of a Jewish educator or a Jewish leader? What is the obligation of such an individual? Is Jewish education thriving or being harmed, when the shepherd is lead by the flock?


A Jewish leader, who seeks approval from his diverse population, and desires not to ruffle their feathers, no longer bases his reality on God’s truth. He is no longer leading, nor is he fit to lead. Public approval becomes his master, whereas God’s truth must guide our every act and thought.


This need for approval must be overcome by every Jewish leader, and is harmful in a large way: Aaron also did what the people wanted, and created a Golden Calf. King Saul lost his throne due to this very error. And that brief time where he allowed Agag the Amalekite to live enabled Haman to issue forth. But the direct crime in seeking not to be “inappropriate for one’s diverse population” is the implicit commitment to something other than God’s word.


Rabbi Reuven Mann once cited the Talmud that teaches the following: a leader who is liked by his flock is not a good leader. This teaches that this leader is not rebuking his flock to improve, which naturally breeds aggression towards that leader. But if his flock loves him, it means that he imposes no demands that they change. He is not leading.


A Jewish leader must be one who is ready for disapproval. He should be wise enough to know that man is moved greatly by his emotions, and with more members in his flock; he will be opposed by more and more diverse views. But the true, Jewish leader has one mission: to educate his members on God’s Torah and its ideals. Approval or popularity is not on his radar, and he is accepting of opposition. He is not disturbed by unfavorable polls. He is even ready to lose his position, because he is devoted to conveying truth. This is what makes a true Jewish leader: one who cares about the truth, who won’t sell out God, and will not compromise Torah values for any other consideration. If he is honest, prioritizing the teaching of God’s words over all else, God has many messengers to provide for his needs. He need not worry about retaining his job through compromising truth.


Jews wishing to be leaders, must not seek popularity, conforming their message to what the public wants to hear, but just the opposite: they must carefully but diligently mold their people into adherents of the Torah’s accurate and sometimes difficult demands, for their very good, regardless of their encountered friction. “Leading,” means to ‘change’ the follower.


It is said that a wicked man is the one who tries to conform reality to his wishes, while a righteous man does the converse; conforming himself to reality. The righteous man observes how God designed his world, and His Torah; he acquiesces to God’s will, and changes his desires and actions to meet God’s. Our great prophets risked much by delivering their messages of truth. Abraham was imprisoned for teaching truth, and even then, he did not cease from his preaching. Abraham continued his mission, as he was convinced (and was proven correct) that the truth is incomparable and compelling. He felt that just as he was enamored by the truth over all else, so too others could be.


This should be the view of Jewish leaders today. A true Jewish leader must be more impressed by the beauty of, and enjoyment in Torah study and practice, to the degree that he desires this for others. This should be what initially moves a Jewish leader to lead: his desire that others witness the marvels of Torah wisdom. Therefore, he will never dilute the Torah’s teachings for any consideration. And if this is the case, then, may this Jewish leader be successful in transferring his love of Torah to others. If he honestly loves his Torah study over all else, he will be enabled to illuminate the minds and souls of many other Jews. He will not compromise his message, lest he do a grave injustice to the purity and precision of Torah ideas and truths, and reduce the potential attraction it may have on others. This would be the greatest sin: to present something as Torah, when it is not. And when such a leader does portray the precision and clarity of Torah fundamentals, he will surely enlighten and give renewed life to those he touches.


This is the most salient lesson: do not seek instant applause, but count on defensive rebuttals…but know how to address them. Be patient and precise in your own learning, so your presented ideas are refined, succinct, clear, and penetrating. In time, those seeking the truth will appreciate it, but only if you offer it. For that is exactly how God designed each and every one of us – to be drawn towards truths, and to repel imposter ideas.


If you truly wish to lead Jews, then you must risk all other considerations, except the singular desire to imbue others with pure Torah ideals, leading them to a love of God. Only then will you succeed. If you fear rebuking your flock, you deserve the rebuke; for you sin by withholding knowledge essential to their perfection.


If your flock leads you, you are not a Jewish leader. The truth is, the flock that feels they can lead their rabbi, will not respect him for too long, and that rabbi will be seeking a new pulpit sooner than later.