Sunday, March 1, 2009

By Whom Am I Led?

(This post was started last week)

Although I am not wise in the particulars of the issue, I know there is a problem of Jewish Leadership that we face today. I just came back from a class I am taking this semester in Sefer Shoftim and today's lesson was about Shamgar. Before him, we discussed Otniel and Ehud. What was noteworthy about them - whether you say Shamgar was a real shofet or not - was that they were military heroes. They won a military victory, thereby saving the Jewish people (or a specific shevet) from an enemy threat.

In general for the Shoftim, these military victories are what make them into Shoftim in the first place. The leaders of Bnei Yisrael at that time were their military heroes. Even Moshe and Yehoshua led battles. It seems as though the military, judicial, and religious leaders were one. There may have been zekeinim or others helping, but there was one authority figure.

Eventually, leadership split and over the centuries, Bnei Yisrael has had many different leaders for all different aspects of life. I know that's an oversimplification, but I guess what I'm trying to say seems that the more leaders we have at a given time, the less unity we have. There are so many religious leaders out there, people feel free to dismiss what an authority figure might say in favor of another one. While it's perfectly fine to have so many different opinions in Judaism, when it comes to leadership, it gets confusing as to who you're supposed to look to for guidance. Whose authority do you follow? Even in the time of the Shoftim, the figures of authority were not the same as Moshe or Yehoshua and there was a lot of fighting amongst the shvatim.

It's also just interesting to me what values the Jewish people from long ago saw as making someone fit for leadership. Winning a military victory does show leadership, ingenuity, judgment, etc. But does that make that person then fit to be a religious leader? Or were the Shoftim not really religious leaders? And if they were, then it seems as though there was this cohesiveness between religious responsibilities and regular life responsibilities (such as fighting wars to conquer Israel or defend it) that we don't really have today. Things are so much more separate. Can you imagine a distinguished rav leading a battle?

Of course we don't live in that time period. I know. And standards today are completely different. I'm not giving an opinion here. I'm merely jotting down my thoughts and observations. It's just curious to me how the role of leaders evolved over time, and I wonder what effect that has had on us as a nation.

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