RABBI JOSEPH B. SOLEVEITCHIK, zt”l
Adapted by Rabbi Abraham R. Besdin from a eulogy delivered by the Rav in 1972 for Rabbi M.Z. Twersky, zt”l, the Talner Rebbe
The Pattern of Dual Leadership
The most authentic form of Jewish leadership is that of the teacher, the Torah scholar, whose power is not political but spiritual. His authority is never imposed; rather, it is eagerly sought. He seeks not the aggrandizement of his personal ego but the transmission of a Divine heritage. The impact of his leadership is more pronounced and enduring than that of political rulers, both during his lifetime and posthumously¹. The only power structure which the Torah encourages is this non-institutional relationship between teacher and pupil. Indeed, one can say the role of the political structure of government is to support the teaching community.
A pattern of dual teaching leadership seems to have prevailed during major periods of Jewish history. It began with Moses and Aaron and is exemplified today by the Rav (Rabbi) and the Hasidic Rebbe. Moses was teacher par excellence. He was not called a king; he was Mosheh Rabbenu, not Mosheh Malkeinu, although he undoubtedly exercised royal authority as well. “And a King [Moses] ruled in Jerusalem [Israel] (Duet. 33:5).² Aaron, who served alongside Moses, was not only a Kohen Gadol but a teacher as well. “And you shall appear before The Kohanim-the Levites- or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem; and they shall tell you the verdict in this case… You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you” (Duet. 17: 9, 11)³. In describing the Kohanite roll, the prophet Malachi (2:7) declared: “The lips of the Kohen preserve knowledge and Torah is sought from his mouth” (2.7).⁴
Both Moses and Aaron were teachers, but their methods and temperaments differed. Later leadership was divided between the Prophets and the Kohanim; and, after prophecy ceased, between Hazal and the Kohanim. In modern times we have the Rav and the Rebbe. From the year 70 C.E. until the advent of Hassidism in the 18th century, we had only the Rav. Then the Besht, the founder of Hassidism, appeared. Hassidim was soon accepted by nearly half of European Jewry. The reign of the Rav was judged by many as insufficient; only with the Rebbe was Jewry restored to the classic dual leadership which characterized major periods of its history.
The two major traditions of Torah teachings may be called that of the king (Malkhut) – Teacher and that of the Saint (Kedusha) – Teacher. Moses was the prototype of the king-teacher and Aaron represented the saint-teacher. Both of them enlightened minds, molded characters, and propagated the word of God. Both led their communities along righteous paths and made sacrifices for their welfare. Nevertheless, their methods, their approaches, and the media they employed were different. In terms of ultimate objectives, they were very close to each other, but their emphasis varied.
Teaching the Mind and Engaging the Soul
The king-teacher addresses himself to the mind. He engages the intellect, analyzing, classifying, clarifying, and transmitting the details of Halakhah with precision. He teaches texts and conceptualized thinking, reconciling seeming contradictions and formulating underlying principles. Moses, Maimonides, the Gaon of Vilna, and Reb Chaim of Brisk reflect the king-teacher par excellence. The king-teacher communicates with words because the intellect only grasps ideas clothed in words. He emphasizes study, limmud, as primary means of identifying with God.
This intellectual emphasis is based on the conviction that the human mind reflects in some way the infinite mind of God. Being created in God’s image means that we reflect aspects of the attributes of God in a finite, imperfect sense. To know is to identify with His knowledge, to partake of it and, in effect, to identify with Him. A child who shares the knowledge of his father identifies with him. A disciple who absorbs the wisdom of his teacher joins his mind with that of his teacher. To know Torah is to join with the intellect of God. It is God who allows man to partake of His knowledge: “You have endowed man with knowledge and teach mortals understanding” (Amidah).⁵
Maimonides emphasizes knowledge as a requisite for loving God. “It is known and certain that the love of God does not become closely knit in a man’s heart till he is continuously and thoroughly possessed by it and gives up everything in the world for it… One only loves God with the knowledge with which one knows him” (Hil. Teshuvah 10:6).⁶ He is saying that one can love deeply only a person one knows well. This view reflects the king-teacher outlook of Maimonides, namely, that the intellectual exploration of God’s moral (Torah) and cosmic (natural) orders is the bridge spanning the gap between man and God.
The saint-teacher, in contrast, even as he deals with the text, focuses his attention upon the invisible, intangible soul of the Torah. The Torah, like a human being, has – according to the Zohar – book a physical “body”, consisting of a thought system and a moral religious code, and a “soul”, an overflowing inward life which can be felt but not understood.
To feel the mysterious heartbeat of the Torah, one has to identify oneself with it. The soul of man, his experiences, must somehow be attuned to the soul of the Torah. The saint-teacher, therefore, communicates with the heart. He tells the heart how to identify its own excited, exhilarated beat with the Torah- to feel, not only to understand.
Judaism has a moral code which is concerned not only with actions but with emotions as well. Many commandments in the Torah are exclusively concerned with the inner life of the Jew. The Sabbath, the festivals, represent not just a bundle of “don’ts” but a great experiential reality. What is prayer, if not worship of the heart? What is the Shema, if not an inner act of surrender to the sovereignty of God?
Words reflect the logos, but they cannot capture the inner emotions of a religious experience. Intense, soulful excitement cannot be pressed into a verbal framework. Descriptions of love, sorrow or exhilaration only remotely approximate the real experience. They are too fluid, too amorphous, and too subjective; the silent word, intuitively transmitted, is more effective. One communicates an experience the way a sick person communicates an illness. Experiences are contagious and one catches their inner spirit by being in touch with a saint-teacher who is lovesick for God.
The saint-teacher therefore communicates with the heart, through periods of extended, close contact, subtle parables, and ecstatic song and dance. He teaches man not only loyalty to Halakhah, but also the art of cleansing the heart of vulgarity, inhumanity, unworthy sentiments, uncouth emotions, and selfish desires. He teaches how a triumph is to be celebrated when the Almighty has granted success, and how to cope with sadness and grief. The saint-teacher creates a society of intense personal piety and subliminal closeness to God.
In the ecstatic and passionate love of God it is the heart, not the mind, which predominates. Prayer, more than study, is the primary emphasis of the saint-teacher. We mentioned earlier that Maimonides felt that an intellectual effort must exist in order to bring forth emotional rapport. Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari, 4), however, expounds the view that the visionary experience is a stronger link than the abstract intellectual experience. Through ethical preparation and mystical transport, not intellectual knowledge, man evokes and inspires emotional communion (devekut) with God. Halevi explains that the God of Abraham was apprehended, not merely comprehended. God to him was a reality experience, felt, emotional, and not abstractly intellectual. The God of Aristotle, by contrast, is only comprehended, as a distinct abstract idea; it is not a direct experience but is perceived through the intermediary of the intellect. The Book of Psalms, as an ideal religious work, reflects the emotional and immediate experience of God’s reality and providential presence.
The emotional represents the yearning of the soul to return to its origin. Man seeks to root himself in his source “like a tree planted near streams of water” (Ps. 1:3)⁷, “like a gazelle panting after streams of water, so my soul pants after You, O God” (Ps. 42:2)⁸. The saint-king responds to this craving of the human soul.
Teaching the Few and Reaching the Many
The king-teacher speaks to a select few, for not all are capable of being scholars; not everyone is qualified to understand an abstract halakhic or scientific concept, let alone contribute to it. He must be content with a limited group of the bright and the talented, the select few. The masses feel despondent at being excluded. This was the situation in Eastern Europe prior to the rise of Hassidut. Nevertheless, there must be this elite of superior scholars who preserve and interpret the written and oral tradition. Only the Talmid Hakham is qualified to distinguish between the authentic and the inauthentic. Yet one simply cannot convert a whole nation into scholars. Only in the Messianic era does Isaiah foresee universal scholarship: “And all your children shall be taught of the Lord” (54:13).⁹
By contrast, the saint-teacher is a leader of the masses, for all Jews have hearts which can be set aflame. All Jews possess sensitive souls and seek God. Every Jew, even the non-scholar, Hassidut teaches, is capable of finding God if he seeks earnestly: “But if you search there for the Lord your God, you will find him, if only you seek him with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 4:29)¹⁰. This assurance is given to all Jews, not only the learned few. Hence the teaching of the saint-teacher is democratic, comprehensible, and accessible to the intellectually uninitiated as well as the philosopher. He presides over an accessible court open to all who seek him for both spiritual and worldly guidance, while the king-teacher confines himself to the Bet Hamidrash (academy), speaking primarily to scholars, lamdanim.
We should note that there were many Hassidic leaders who chose to combine the role of king-teacher with their saint-teacher responsibilities. They intellectualized Hassidut. Similarly, there were king-teachers who enlarged their scope to include wider masses and who allowed greater accessibility. We have simply described the primary traits of each type of teacher’s personality, dating from Moses to Aaron in antiquity to the Rav and Rebbe of modern times.
Hesed and Emet
The king-teacher practices middat hadin, criticizing, extorting, holding people accountable for transgressions and failures. The am ha’aretz, the ignoramus, and the lax are censured. Emet, truth, demands unbending justice. In the eyes of the ish emet, the man of truth, nothing must be given gratuitously. One must be rewarded according to one’s merits. If a person is deserving, he should be loved. If he is not deserving, love should be denied him. Any deviation is unpardonable. The sinner is deserving only of reprimand and instruction.
The saint-teacher, however, is primarily guided by hesed, limitless compassion and overflowing kindness. The essence of hesed expresses itself in its universality and its ultimate love, from which no one is excluded. The ish hesed, the person of unqualified love, does not ask the recipient of his love to present moral credentials. His love is gratuitous as well as boundless. While the king-teacher rebukes the sinner in harsh language, the saint-teacher sheds a tear of sympathy for the sinner when he encounters sins. The king-teacher loudly scorns iniquity, while the saint-teacher saddened by iniquity, speaks softly. The former fights for emet through exhortation and instruction; the latter, by reproaching the sinner the way a loving mother reproaches a mischievous child. The sermon of the king-teacher is often harsh, saturated with prophetic indignation. The sermon of the saint-teacher is subdued, saturated with prophetic love. He teaches through love and concern.
There is a classic story which illustrates, perhaps simplistically, the difference between the two approaches. The coachman who, while greasing his wagon wheels, also decided to davven Minhah (recite the afternoon prayers) evoked different reactions from passersby. The emet-type exclaimed: “Sheygetz! While you davven, you grease wheels?” The hesed-type said: “Ah, a sheyner Yid! [a worthy Jew!] Even when he greases his wheels, he davvens!”
Which approach is to be preferred? To be all-loving is to betray truth, to encourage mediocrity, and to allow the inauthentic to destroy the teachings of God. This would be inadmissible and a betrayal of our historic trust. On the other hand, to be absolutely truthful is to love only some people and to alienate many who are genuine in their hearts and who are earnestly searching. The reconciliation of middat hadin (attribute of strict justice) and middat harahamim (attribute of compassion) is achieved only in God. Man can find only a relative solution to this dilemma, depending upon his temperament and outlook. In this, the king-teacher and the saint-teacher part company. They both have discovered a formula to harmonize hesed and emet, but one emphasizes emet and the other hesed. They both love and are committed to the truth, yet they act differently.
Moses was a model of the Rav; Aaron of the Rebbe. Moses was a k’vad-peh, a non-verbal person, not given to small talk, easy socializing, and extensive negotiations. He was Rabbenu, a scholar, teacher, uniquely spiritually endowed, who communicated tersely what he had to say. He was a teacher primarily to Joshua, the elders of Israel, zikne Yisrael, and to others who were qualified to understand the intricacies of Torah and Halakhah. The contrast between Moses and Aaron was noted by our Sages: “Moses’ guiding principle was-the strict law is immutable. But Aaron loved and pursued peace and sought to reconcile man with his neighbor” (Sanh. 6b).¹¹ The Midrash adds: “Hesed and shalom-this is Aaron; emet and tzedek-this is Moses.”12 “The lips of the Kohen preserve knowledge”⁴ emphasizes Aaron’s lips, his persuasive style and closeness to the people. His title was not Rabbenu but Hakohen, which signifies a minister of God.
We may note their different reactions to the egel hazahav incident, the one denouncing, exhorting, and enlightening, the other working along with the people, procrastinating, hoping against hope to diffuse the frightened and confused masses in time of Moses’ return. (see Rashi, Ex. 32:5). Both approaches must be somehow combined¹³. The people must not only be taught by instruction, but also by warm and friendly guidance. A loving permissiveness can only be destructive; a harsh accountability, alienating. We read that when Moses died, Vayivku bene Yisrael et Mosheh (Deut. 34:8): only the men, who had studied Torah with him, appreciated his greatness and sensed the extent of their loss. But on Aaron’s death, the text reads: Vayivku kol bet Yisrael, “all the children of Israel [men and women] wept”, united in the mourning because, as Rashi explains, “he pursued peace and made peace between man and his neighbor and between wife and husband.”
Nowadays, the Rav, the contemporary teacher-king, has absorbed many of the qualities of the Rebbe, not only teaching but coming close to his people. The Rebbe, representing the modern teacher-saint, now also emphasizes scholarship and the teaching role. The classic differences are still there, but the lines of demarcation are at times blurred. Jewish leadership is most effective when it combines the mind and the heart in the worship of God.