Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)Judaism Can’t be Outsourced

What quality must an authentic Jewish leader possess?When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: “Come on! Make us a god that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him. (Exodus 32:1)
They asked for something that would “go before us.” When Moses was with them, they viewed his leadership as going before them—accomplishing what his followers couldn’t—and that is what they felt they were missing now.
Moses did eventually return from the mountain and years later, before he died, he asked G-d to appoint a successor who will go out before them and who will bring them out and bring them in.” (Numbers 27:17) The leader’s job is not merely to walk “before” the people, rather he was to remain with them—approachable and in their midst at all times. He would help bring them in and out by serving as a model to be emulated and as a guide and teacher but the actual going in and out they would have to do for themselves.
When a family member is sick, the Talmud (Bava Basra 116a) recommends that one should go to a sage and ask for mercy. One explanation is that you learn the ways of prayer from the sage and afterwards, with new insight, you pray for your sick relative. The ideal is not that the sage prays instead of the person, rather he serves as a prayer instructor.
Joshua was chosen as successor because he understood this more clearly than his contemporaries that a leader doesn’t act instead of the people, rather he merely presents a model to follow.
This idea has applications for people who feel that the Rabbi is the one who does Mitzvot on their behalf and outsource their Judaism to him. They pay dues at a synagogue with the understanding that they are absolved from any observance—after all that’s what the Rabbi is paid to do. Shabbos, kosher, Yom Tov (holidays) or anything else is for a religious functionary. This huge mistake has been learned from other religions in which a religious official is the only one qualified to do certain things or say certain prayers. The clergyman is the only one expected to be holy and constantly strive in spiritual matters.
Some Jews are surprised to discover that a Rabbi doesn’t have to officiate or even be present at a synagogue service, wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, funeral, baby naming or any other community or lifecycle event. He doesn’t have a special prayer pipeline to G-d; all of us have this power within us but it’s easier to outsource it to the Rabbi, which can sometimes be a cause of laziness and shirking one’s Jewish obligations.
Years ago, I counseled a couple in which the wife was disappointed by one of her husband’s behavioral patterns. I explained that part of it wasn’t unique to her husband, it was a “guy thing” and that I too had fallen into that rut in the early years of our marriage. But, I assured her, I sought counsel and worked on it and became a more sensitive husband as a result. She replied, “you’re a Rabbi and work on yourself; how is that applicable to my husband?” I discussed this very point with her and it was a revelation that a Rabbi’s job is to facilitate and instruct but sensitivity and character development are incumbent on us all, not just the ordained. The Torah was given to the entire Jewish nation en masse, not clergy.
Joshua was the heir to Jewish leadership because he, and every bonafide religious leader after him, would educate and be a model for the people, not a conscience soother. Ultimately, the greatness of our leaders will be commensurate with the caliber of their followers.
Good Shabbos.
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