A True Jewish Leader: Part Two

Rabbi Yaakov Peretz shlit"a
Rabbi Yaakov Peretz shlit"a, Rosh Yeshiva of the Midrash Sephardi Yeshiva, and Chief Rabbi of the Neve Yakov neigborhood in Jerusalem

I left off last week, speaking about true Jewish leaders. This last week has been so very hectic in Israel. As you all know election day was last week, and the country was split up over two very possible candidates – Tzipi Livni, and Bibi Netanyahu.

I spent Shabbat with relatives, and heard the back and forth arguments for each one. No one was expecting the outcome of the elections. Livni won by having the most seats of one party in Knesset (Knesset is a parliamentary system, where every party get a certain amount of seats out of 120. To be the Prime Minister, a party must form a coalition with other parties to have a majority presence in the Knesset). On the other hand, her opposition, the “right wing” groups – both religious and non-religious – had the majority of seats in the Knesset.

Now, as the Talmud teaches in Bava Metzia – all that is left is to “fight it out”.

One party is trying to pay others for seats, while the other is negotiating with another party for policy changes if they agree to cooperate. Everyone wants seats, and the amount of compromise is minimal. I was disgusted as I saw the face of politics turn uglier than it already is, as the left parties refused to sit with religious parties, who they view as parasites.

Yet, G-d has his ways of reminding us who really leads the Jewish people with a noble and true spirit. For me, it came in the form of a story from my Rosh Yeshiva – Rabbi Yaakov Peretz shlit”a:

Rabbi Peretz was travelling to a settlement in Israel to give a gift to one of his children’s in-laws, a rabbi in the Yeshiva there. As he was ready to leave, he noticed the esteemed ba’al mussar (master of ethics, and author of many books on Jewish values and ethics), Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt”l standing by the bus stop, waiting for his bus to come. Rabbi Peretz took the opportunity to discuss Torah with such a Torah giant, and approached Rabbi Wolbe.

After shaking hands, Rabbi Peretz commented to Rabbi Wolbe that he saw a copy of the Rabbi’s book, and thought that the table of contents and indexing was very badly done, and that he should fix it to aid those who want to learn his books. As a true Rabbi would, he accepted the criticism, and took note of it in his notebook.

My Rosh Yeshiva then asked Rabbi Wolbe if he had time for a story, to which the latter responded that he did. Rabbi Peretz related as follows:

“I was on a bus, with the dayan (Jewish judge), Rabbi Yisrael Mazuz shlit”A  of Ramat Eshkol. We were debating the laws of standing up in respect for a Torah scholar together. Just then, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlit”a (the foremost halachic authority of Ashkenazi Jewry worldwide), got on the bus as well. As he walked closer to us Rabbi Mazuz asked me if we must stand, and I replied “of course!”. We did so, and Rabbi Elyashiv took the empty seat behind us.

I turned around, and in these exact words asked him: “Tov asinu – did we act correctly?”. Rabbi Elyashiv looked at me and simply stated, “lo – no”. “

My Rosh Yeshiva then asked Rabbi Wolbe to explain Rabbi Elyashiv’s puzzling answer. He said that out of his genuine humility, Rabbi Elyashiv didn’t feel it was proper to stand up for him, although halachically what they did was correct.

Rabbi Peretz smiled, and said that he also thought it was very important for those non-religious members of society who despise the religious Jews in Israel, to see how Torah-observant Jews respect each other, standing up one for the other, to which Rabbi Wolbe agreed whole-heatedly.

My Rosh Yeshiva continued and told us, that once the bus pulled up, Rabbi Wolbe got on first, and a whole group pushed their way in between the two of them. By the time Rabbi Peretz got onto the bus, there were no seats left, and Rabbi Wolbe was already seated. As my Rabbi walked down the aisle, Rabbi Wolbe stood up for him and offered him his seat. Understandably, my Rosh Yeshiva was very upset and said “why did his honor stand up for me?! Sit!”.

Rabbi Wolbe smiled at him and said “But didn’t the Rosh Yeshiva just teach me that it shows the public how religous Jews act when we treat the others with respect?”

These are true Jewish leaders! We are not a lost generation! The way to lead the people, is not by demanding honor, respect, power, money…or even seats. The true way to lead the Jewish people, is to give honor and respect…and sometimes, even your seat!

Ashrenu u’ma tov chelkenu – Praiseworthy and how fortunate are we, to have such true Jewish leaders!

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