By Yochanan Gordon
The Torah is explicit regarding the importance of sound leadership within Klal Yisrael. We constantly invoke the merit of our forefathers, Moshe Rabbeinu, and other selfless leaders who acted as a conduit between G‑d and the Jewish people. Following the narrative of the Egyptian exile and Moshe Rabbeinu’s role in ultimately redeeming us, we come to see just how reliant we are on our leaders.
The Gemara admonishes “those fools who stand before the Sefer Torah but don’t stand up when a tzaddik is in their midst.” When the Torah tells us to “cleave to G‑d,” the Gemara asks, “Is it possible to cleave to G‑d, Who is a consuming fire?” The Gemara interprets the verse: “Cleave to talmidei chachamim and it’s as if you have become one with me.”
The Baal Shem Tov once witnessed a Jew desecrating Shabbos. It affected him so deeply that he ran to his room and began sobbing. After he had settled down, he began thinking through his entire life to see if he had ever been remotely lax in his observance of Shabbos—which he had no recollection of. Knowing full well that everything in this world is divinely ordained, he could not rest until he discovered what had caused him to see such blatant disregard for the holy day. It then dawned upon him that he had once seen someone denigrate the honor of a Torah scholar and he had not stood up for the honor of the talmid chacham. Based on the fact that the Zohar calls talmidei chachamim by the term “Shabbos,” he concluded that he had thus desecrated the honor of Shabbos.
Unfortunately, wherever we turn, we see blatant disregard for the leaders that G‑d, in his mercy, has put in our midst. The Gemara in Bava Basra says, “G‑d saw that the righteous are scarce, so he stood up and planted them in every generation.” The most unfortunate part of this is that the greatest disregard for our leaders is coming from people who view themselves as being closest to them and most reverent of them.
Many of you are aware of the letter that circulated last week which originated in the holy city of Bnei Brak. Supposedly someone from within the inner circle of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, approached the sage with a question regarding the halachic status of people who go against the ruling of the gedolei Yisrael and possess a smartphone. The letter states in part that anyone who possesses an iPhone is, according to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, invalid to bear testimony. Consequently, if someone was married or divorced through witnesses who use Internet-accessible devices, they should get remarried or have another get. Furthermore, if a woman immersed in a mikveh which had been cleared for halachic use by someone who uses these devices, she could not rely on that immersion and would have to immerse again to become pure. The consequences of this psak were staggering and could cause anyone who holds dear the words of our sages to fear for the spiritual safety of themselves and their families.
Many are aware that the names of Rav Chaim and other gedolim—both those who are among us and those recently departed—have been hijacked by people who look to persuade them into supporting their personal agendas. This has caused a mass disregard for psakim and proclamations emanating forth from many of these leaders, out of skepticism that they are genuine.
Indeed, the Five Towns Jewish Times spoke with Rav Mattisyahu Lessman, Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s neighbor, and confirmed that although Rav Kanievsky has spoken out about the dangers of using these devices, the general tone and substance of the letter has been fabricated by the signee, Aryeh Feinhandler, who—Rav Lessman also said—is notorious for taking communal matters into his own hands and attributing such rulings to Rav Chaim, after manipulating the sage to get the ruling out of him.
While we might breathe a collective sigh of relief regarding the invalidity of the letter, we at the same time might mourn and lament the fact that people have the audacity to abuse the greatest sages of our day and bring about a situation where we no longer have anyone to rely upon to lead us along the path of Jewish life in the twenty-first century.
A chassid once entered a private audience with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and excused himself when asking the Rebbe if he could say over a vort in the name of the late Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum. The Rebbe replied that he did not understand the reason for wanting to be excused and insisted that the chassid tell him the vort. The chassid replied, “They say that the Rebbes are somewhat at odds.” The Rebbe’s countenance became quite serious and he replied, “There is nothing between me and the Satmar Rebbe. As for what is said out there in the world, Dassan and Aviram tzumished in mittin [are caught up in the middle].”
Knowing the scarcity of true leaders and genuine servants of G‑d who are capable of holding us on their shoulders, we have to pray that G‑d silence these wicked people who have caused thousands to have to question the authenticity of many of these statements and give our leaders the courage to stand up and lead us directly with their own counsel to greet Mashiach soon in our days. v