Monday, June 18, 2012

Lessons of Leadership

When reviewing this past week's Torah reading, I was tortured by a horribly unpleasant thought.  The reading begins with God commissioning a scouting mission, whereby selected leaders from the the twelve tribes of Israel would go to scout out the land.  The Malbim, a precise and exacting later commentary, notes that one person was sent from each tribe because each tribe was being apportioned a separate piece of land; the scouting mission was something of an ancient pilot trip.  Each tribe's representative could report back about the economic and other advantages of the specific parcel of land allotted to that tribe.  It goes without saying that these scouts weren't supposed to question the ultimate mission, but either to plan for the upcoming arrival more properly, or else to assuage any fears that might exist among the public.

Fast forward, and the rest is history.  Despite direct promises from God that He (the same God who had taken these same leaders out of Egypt with just a few miraculous episodes would lead them into the promised land, and that this was their ultimate destiny, they revolted and tried to sabotage the entire mission. "We can't do it," they exclaimed.  "We're not strong enough, and defeat is all but certain," or so the complaint may have sounded.  But who were these "scouts" who ignored the simple and obvious plan of God?  Surely, they weren't the major leaders of the generation; a majority of a generation's righteous leaders would never commit such an error.

The Torah informs us otherwise.  "[T]hey were all men of stature, leaders of the children of Israel" (Numbers 13:3).  Somehow, ten of the twelve leaders of the people, reputed by our tradition to be wise, spiritually unique tribal heads erred by ignoring the simple and obvious charge of the divine call.  The people listened, and disastrous consequences ensued.

I can't help but painfully admit that we're in a shockingly similar situation in the modern day.  Many of our "leaders" remind us of the Jewish law principle that decisions go after majority rule.  This is emphasized by the Torah's command (אחרי רבים להטות), and the famous story of the "Tanur Shel Achnai."  Still, it now seems like a huge number of these same "leaders," I fear encroaching on a majority, have accepted norms directly opposed to God's given command.

Modern day self-proclaimed leaders now promote niche interests focused to an extreme and grossly distorted version of Jewish law.  Nowhere is this more true than in areas of child abuse.  I'll state in unequivocally; we have a major problem with abuse in our community.  Now, normative Jewish law demands that we turn in the abusers to protect the public, and because the laws of the United States are fair and just (for those halachists out there, no prohibition of Mesira applies in these cases).  Further, Jewish law demands that we protect innocent children and shield them from this kind of harm.

 Still, righteous leaders (many many big names included) of Agudath Israel proclaim, most recently in Misphacha magazine, that complaints must first be heard by Rabbis, untrained in these areas, who will determine if the complaints are credible.  This seems like a clear violation of mandatory reporting provisions in civil law.  This seems like a difficult reading of the halacha.  All of this combined with a culture that opposes stronger laws in these areas and a street culture that actively harasses victims and their supporters while holding rallies for and financially supporting criminals.  This is just one of many areas where the leadership, to follow the metaphor, is leading us to spiritual death in the wilderness and far away from the Holy land.  I'll say it as clearly as I can; we have a major problem with leaders totally and absolutely unfit to rule in our communities.  On this issue, leaders should be seen supporting the victims and leading the charge against abuse.  Instead, we are dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. 

The Jewish people are supposed to be a light unto the nations.  For thousands of years, our religion has served as a shining example of morality, diligence, family values, commitment to community, education, social justice, and support for those who need it most.  We brought humanity monotheism and the Ten Commandments, and have left an indelible impression on the moral makeup of our society.  How sad that we no longer continue to lead, instead ignoring God's commands in favor of our own bizarre partisan protectionism (not just on the abuse issue, I just chose it as the most egregious), and the world repays us by teaching us about the very justice we once introduced.  Let's stand up and reclaim the mantle of Judaism from those who would assert they represent the tradition, when in fact, we must reluctantly but forcefully admit they are leading us far far away from the promised land.       

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