By Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
There is a well-known story of a conversation which took place between R. Naftali Amsterdam and R. Yisroel Salanter. Rav Naftali said to Rav Salanter, “Rebbe, if only I had the mind of the Sha’agas Aryeh, the heart of the author of the Yesod veShoresh haAvodah and your midos, then I would truly be able to serve Hashem.” R. Yisroel Salanter replied, “Naftali, with your head, with your heart and with your midos, you are best able to serve Hashem.”
Each Rav has his own unique way of serving Hashem, not only in his personal avodas Hashem, but specifically in his Rabbonus, and thus the starting point for any remarks on rabbinic leadership is the acknowledgment that every Rav uses his own unique talents in serving Klal Yisroel in his own unique way.
Nevertheless, there are general guiding principles applicable to all Rabbonim. This essay outlines these principles and seeks to address the following questions: How do we define the mission of Rabbinic leadership? What is the unique dimension of the Rabbonus as a platform to lead and serve Klal Yisroel? It is important to articulate a philosophical framework for Rabbinic leadership for such a framework gives the rabbinate greater strategic clarity and sense of mission. However, such a framework is also relevant for everyone, even those who are not part of the rabbinate but form part of communities who hope to choose and be led by a Rabbi. The principles presented below are Torah ideas which, by definition, are applicable to every Jew. Nevertheless, this essay will use these principles specifically to create a philosophical framework for Rabbinic leadership.
Malchus and Rabbinic Leadership
The Gemara says,
Rav Huna and Rav Chisda were once sitting together and Geniva was passing by. One of them said to the other, “Let’s stand up for him because he is learned in Torah.” [The other] responded, “Should we stand up for a quarrelsome person?” Meanwhile, he [Geniva] came over to them and said, “Peace to you, kings, peace to you, kings!” They said to him, “Whence do you know that the rabbis are called kings?” He answered, “For it is written,בי מלכים ימלוכו—‘Through me [the Torah], kings reign’.”
We learn a number of important lessons from this Gemara. Firstly, from the debate as to whether or not to stand up for Geniva, we see that even if a person is a great talmid chochom, his being a ba’al machlokes (quarrelsome) presents a flaw in his personality and, consequently, in his influence on Klal Yisroel.
Secondly—and this is the main point for our discussion—we see that talmidey chochomim are referred to as kings; in other words, a Rav is a king. This notion seems counterintuitive: A Rav does not have the political power or the executive authority of a king and he is not functioning within any model of political power, only as a spiritual leader. Why, then, do Chazal define an essential part of rabbinic leadership in terms of malchus? What is the connection between kingship and rabbinic leadership?
Furthermore, the Rambam says:,
The Jewish people were crowned with three crowns, the crown of … [learning] Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship. Aaron merited the crown of priesthood, David merited … the crown of kingship and the crown of [learning] Torah is placed before all of Israel … And lest we say the other crowns are greater, the crown of [learning] Torah is the greatest of all, as it says, בי מלכים ימלוכו—“Through me, kings reign.”
We can understand that the authority of a king is symbolized by a crown. A crown refers to malchus, kingship; it refers to authority and power. Why, then, is Torah scholarship described as a form of kingship, as, indeed, the greatest crown of all?
Chazal’s concept of malchus can be summed up in one word: sovereignty. In any country or society, there is only one independently sovereign power, which is the legal source of all power. There are many organizations, powerful bodies and lobbyists, but there is only one sovereign power under which all other institutions and individuals exercise the power delegated to them by the crown, the state, the government or the constitution of that country. The nature of a sovereign state is that within the borders of the country, it alone exercises sovereignty. By definition, sovereignty is indivisible; it is all or nothing.
The source of all sovereignty in the universe is Hashem’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of His will as reflected in the Torah. This is the deeper meaning of בי מלכים ימלוכו melochim yimlochu: All authority—that of of a melech or a koheyn godol—is rooted in the Torah. Rabbonim talmidey chochomim are the guardians of the authority of the Torah, and therefore the keser Torah is greater than the other crowns which draw their authority from it.
בי מלכים ימלוכו means that all authority in this world stems from Hashem and the Torah and that talmidey chochomim represent this authority. This is the greatest accolade and the best description of the talmid chochom: He is a king whose authority is rooted in the Torah. There is no concept of authority outside the Torah’s authority. We see this principle, for example, in the fact that the authority of parents is rooted in and circumscribed by the Torah. Parents who tell a child to desecrate Shabbos or to defy any of the other Mitzvos are not to be obeyed. All authority that exists in this world belongs to Hashem and is anchored in His Torah, the ultimate constitution of human existence.
Taking this analysis one step further, not only has Hashem designated Rabbonim as the guardians of His Torah, but He has given them a share in the Torah and ownership of it. The Gemara writes that a father who waives his honor, his honor is waived, because the honor is his in his personal capacity. However, according to one opinion, a Rav who waives his honor, his honor is not waived because it is not his to disregard; it belongs to the people. The Gemara then cites Rav Yosef who argues the opposite saying that even if a Rav waives his honor, his honor is waived:
Rav Yosef says, even a Rav who waives his honor, his honor is renounced, as it says, “Hashem went before them by day”.
We see that G-d Himself waived His honor, when He led the people in the desert. Certainly, then, a Rav can also waive his honor.
The Gemara continues,
Rava said, “Now then, this is not a valid comparison. The case there involves the Holy One, Blessed is He. Since the world is His and the Torah is His, He can renounce His honor. Here, however, in the case of a Rav, is the Torah his to renounce the honor due it?” Rava then retracted his argument and said, “Yes, a Rav’s Torah is his own, as it is written, “In his Torah, he meditates day and night.”
Hashem can waive His honor—He owns His honor and He owns the world. But how can a talmid chochom waive the honor of the Torah? Is the Torah his that he can waive its honor? The answer is yes, it is his; a talmid chochom has made a kinyan on–an acquisition of—the Torah and through his learning, it becomes his. Bi melochim yimlochu does not mean merely that Hashem has designated a group of people as guardians of the Torah; it is more than that. It means that when talmidey chochomim learn His Torah, they make a kinyan on the Torah and it becomes theirs. Saying that Rabbonim are called melochim means that the sovereignty of the world rests with those who have a joint partnership with Hashem’s ultimate sovereignty. It is not just that the Torah belongs to Hashem and He gave it to Rabbonim to enforce; rather, when they learn His Torah, they become a shutaf—a partner—with Hashem in His Torah and His kingship.
This idea can be the beginning of a philosophical framework for Rabbinic leadership. Based on this idea, one could say that the mission statement of Rabbonim is to crown Hashem as sovereign and to bring the sovereignty of His Torah into the world.
What does this mean from a practical and strategic point of view?
Torah Permeates Every Aspect of Life
The mission of a Rabbi is broad. It is not exclusively to educate and inspire Jews to keep Mitzvos, but also to bring Hashem’s sovereignty into this world and to crown His Torah as sovereign over every part of our lives. Chazal refer to this in explaining יום הששי—“the sixth day.” All of creation was waiting for “the sixth day,” the sixth of Sivan—the day the Torah would come into the world; for without the Torah, the world would go back to tohu vo-vohu, to being totally empty and void. Hashem created this world not only for His malchus, but also so that His malchus would be expressed through His Torah; and if His malchus is not being expressed through His Torah, there is no purpose to the world. This idea is expressed also in the words of the Midrash, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” And it is also part of the meaning of Chazal’s words, הפך בה והפך בה דכוליה בה—“Turn it [the Torah] over and over, for everything is in it.” When we look at the Torah, we are not just looking at the Mitzvos but at the totality of the Torah, for there is no part of life to which Torah values do not apply or for which the Torah does not have a message to impart. Even when there is no specific Mitzva to fulfil, every part of life is part of the service of Hashem and is part of a Torah framework.
This insight is expressed in a broader sense in the directive of the Shulchan Aruch: שיהיו כל כוונותיו לשם שמים—“that whatever a person does should be for the sake of Heaven”—including even seemingly mundane activities like eating and sleeping. When a person eats in order to have energy to serve Hashem, he is not fulfilling any specific Mitzva, yet his actions are part of a total avodas Hashem.
Perhaps this is why Chazal use the concept of malchus to describe Rabbonus: because sovereignty is indivisible. The main difference between a government and an organization is that a non-governmental organization has power and influence, but a government has sovereignty which is, by definition, indivisible. If a government does not have full sovereignty over the entire land under its control, then, by definition, it is not a government, just another competing organization.
Sovereignty is indivisible and, hence, the mission of Rabbonim is to bring Hashem’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of His Torah to every facet of Klal Yisroel’s destiny. The Shulchan Aruch contains not just the section of Orach Chayim (the laws of daily life) but also the sections, Yoreh Dey’ah (forbidden matters), Even HaEzer (marriage laws) and Choshen Mishpat (civil adjudications); it covers every aspect of human existence and there is nothing in the world that is not covered by the wide ambit of the Torah.
The Gemara in Bava Kama says:
Rav Yehuda says, “He who wants to be a saintly person should make sure he keeps the laws regarding Nezikin [damages].” Rava says, “He should keep the laws of Avos [the proper behavior mentioned in Tractate Avos].” And others say he should keep the laws of Berachos [blessings].
The Maharal explains that these three areas of Halacha represent different aspects of human relationships: beyn adam le-chaveyro—“between man and his fellow man”—which is covered by the laws of damages; beyn adam leMakom—“[the relationship] between man and Hashem”—which is covered by the laws of berachos; and beyn adam le-atzmo—“[the relationship] between man and himself,” covered in the laws of proper behavior. Thus, all aspects of human existence are covered by the Torah.
R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch emphasized that Torah is not merely a religion, which implies simply a system of ceremonial worship and spirituality. Given that Torah is not just a “religion,” Rabbonim are not just religious functionaries. Rav Hirsch says that the verse ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם—“I will take you to be My nation”—captures the uniqueness of Torah. Torah applies to every aspect of human existence, to every dimension of building and guiding an entire nation.
A follower of R. Yitzchok Hutner wrote to him in 1954 that he was struggling because he felt as if he were leading a double life: On the one hand, he was engaged in a “secular career” and on the other hand, he was pursuing a life of Torah. Rav Hutner wrote back that there is a difference between living a double life and living a broad life. He gave a moshol to explain: A double life is living at home and renting a hotel room to live in as well. A broad life is adding another room onto your home and keeping all your activities under the same roof. Rav Hutner cited the example of Dr. [Moshe] Wallach [of Sha’are Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem] whose job of healing people should be seen as an important part of serving Hashem. A doctor who is a yerey Shomayim has a tremendous added impact on the world, by increasing the honor of Heaven in the world.
Rav Hutner explains further, based on the Halacha which says ma’arichim be-Echad—“that one should elongate the word ‘Echad’ [in the pasuk of Shema]”—that ma’arichim beEchad also means that one should broaden the concept of what Hashem Echad means—namely, that Hashem is One, that He is everywhere, and that our service of Him extends to every part of life. Leading a double life means that we are not viewing Hashem as sovereign. A doctor who compartmentalizes his hospital work, on the one hand, and his learning and service of Hashem, on the other, implies that Hashem’s sovereignty does not enter the doors of the hospital, and that serving Hashem is limited to the shul and the Beys HaMidrash. But true avodas Hashem is indivisible; it permeates every aspect of life.
The mission of Rabbonus is to bring the crown of Torah to every aspect of life—in Klal Yisroel and in the world at large—such that people understand that everything is governed by the Torah. The latter idea is encapsulated in the words of the Mishna mentioned above, הפך בה והפך בה דכוליה בה; everything is in the Torah. It is the responsibility of Rabbonim to educate Klal Yisroel to understand that Hashem’s sovereignty is indivisible and that His wisdom applies to all times, places and situations.
One classic example of this mission in action in our times was the life of R. Moshe Feinstein. Here was a posek from Eastern Europe who arrived in the United States and was thrust into the heart of the most modern society in human civilization, at a time bursting with creativity and innovation. He was called upon to pasken for all sorts of situations—medical ethics, the halachic status of a corporation; he was even asked by the American government for his opinion on the death penalty. R. Moshe Feinstein’s piskey halacha demonstrate the sovereignty of Torah over every aspect of life. His own life was the ultimate act of declaring the Torah’s sovereignty over every part of human existence.
In the words of another great Rav of 20th-century America, R. Mordechai Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth, New Jersey, “the Torah speaks in the language of tomorrow.” A Rav’s duty is to impart to his kehilah,and to the world at large that the wisdom of the Torah extends to all areas of life; it deals with every problem society faces, no matter how complex, no matter what historical era Klal Yisroel finds itself in.
R. Moshe Feinstein brought the sovereignty of Torah to the world through Halacha, R. Mordechai Teitz did it through building his kehilah. Each Rav in his own sphere of work needs to bring the sovereignty of the Torah to everything and to show the tzibur that Torah speaks to all aspects of life—marriage, raising children, building a family, running a business—indeed, everything.
Bringing Hashem’s Sovereignty into the World
Practically, how do Rabbonim bring Hashem’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of His Torah into the world? The task of Rabbonim is to inspire Klal Yisroel to live as Jews in action and in thought, with the right hashkafos and with the ability to look at the world through Torah eyes. How is this achieved?
I would like to suggest three ways:
The first way of bringing malchus Shomayim into the world is to make Hashem’s Name beloved. The Gemara asks: How do we fulfil the Mitzva of ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך—“You must love Hashem”? The Gemara answers: שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך—“Hashem’s Name should become beloved through you.” What is interesting is that ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך comes immediately after the first pasuk of Shema, where we proclaim Hashem’s malchus. Thus, we must inspire people to accept His kingship but also to love Him, for loving Hashem is an even higher level than acknowledging His sovereignty. How do we inspire people to love Hashem?
The Gemara gives a clear formula:
One who learns Chumash and Mishna, serves talmidey chochomim and his dealings with people are in good faith and conducted in a pleasant manner– of such a person, what do people say? “How fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, how fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.” But as for one who learns Chumash and Mishna and serves talmidey chochomim, yet his business transactions are not conducted faithfully and his manner of speaking with people is not pleasant, what do people say about him? “Woe unto that person who learns Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah.”
If we want to inspire people with ahavas Hashem, there is only one way to do so, and that is by personal example of good midos. This relates to the very essence of malchus. The Telzer Rav, R. Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, explains that the only true malchus we can have is over ourselves. Every human being is created be-tzeylem Elokim—“in the image of Hashem,” and therefore one person cannot rule over another.
Rav Bloch lived in a land of tyrants with no notion of democracy. He writes that he knew of a tyrant who had to light all the rooms of his castle so that nobody would know where he was, because he feared being assassinated. “Is that real malchus?” he asks.
The Midrash says,
For behold, the kings assembled, they came together. Who are these kings? [They are] Yehudah and Yosef.
Why are Yehudah and Yosef defined as kings? Not because they were political rulers, but because they had conquered their yetzer ho-ra and were famous for sanctifying God’s name, publicly and privately. This characteristic was the source of their malchus. The Telzer Rav says that the ultimate madreygah a person can strive for is to be a melech—over himself; and this is why these great leaders of Klal Yisroel are defined as melochim.
The Midrash says,
Because his [Yosef’s] mouth did not kiss sin, therefore his mouth was given the power to sustain the people; because his body did not touch sin, therefore he was given the clothing of royalty to cloak his body.
The Telzer Rav says that we see clearly from this Midrash that the source of Yosef’s malchus lay in his being a melech over himself. This self-control is the only real source of malchus. And it is at the heart of the Gemara in Yoma quoted above that malchus over oneself is the source of malchus over others. And this is why the Gemara says, Man malchey? Rabbanan—“Who are the kings of Klal Yisroel? [They are] the Rabbonim”—talmidey chochomim who study Torah, work on their midos and are truly melochim over themselves.
This, then, is the way to bring Hashem’s sovereignty into the world. The underlying principle of the Gemara in Yoma is that we have to show people what Hashem’s sovereignty really means. When people see how Hashem’s sovereignty transforms a person for the good, when they see a person who is a ba’al midos tovos, who has derech eretz, whose speech is pleasant, whose interactions with people are in good faith and with integrity, they see how malchus Shomayim can transform a person and they will want to be a part of that malchus.
To sum up, one aspect of bringing Hashem’s malchus into the world is to serve as an example of good midos and malchus over character and actions, becoming a person whose entire being is refined and governed by the malchus of Hashem.
Leadership Means Service to the People
The second way of bringing malchus Shomayim into the world is learned from the Gemara in Horiyos :
Rabban Gamliel wanted to appoint two great talmidey chochomim, R. Elazar Chisma and R. Yochanan ben Gudgeda as the heads of the academy. He sent for them, but they did not want to come. Again he sent for them, and this time they came. He said to them, “Does it seem to you that I am offering you power? It is service that I am giving you,” as the verse says, “They spoke to him saying; if today you become a servant to this nation.”
Here is a second insight from Chazal regarding malchus. The key to malchus is to understand that any position of leadership necessitates service to the people. The pasuk quoted in the Gemara is the advice which Rechav’am’s advisors gave him at the crucial moment in history when the people were begging him to lighten their tax burden whereas he wanted to assert himself and show his strength. His young advisors counseled him to raise the taxes so as not to be perceived a weak leader. The elders, on the other hand, said to him, “If today you become a servant to this nation and serve them and respond favorably to them and speak kind words to them, they will be your servants all the days.” Tragically, he did not take their advice and Jewish history has never recovered from his misjudgment.
Malchus over the people means avdus to the people. Rashi explains,שהשררות עבדות הוא לאדם לפי שמוטל עליו עול רבים—“leadership is avdus (service) for the leader because the burden of the klal rests upon him as a leader.” To be a Rav is to carry the pain and difficulties of Klal Yisroel. To bring Hashem’s malchus into the world, one has to carry the burden of the tzibur and be their servant. The Torah is about chesed and helping people, and people need to see that welfare projects are part of the ambit of the Torah, that chesed is the mandate of the Torah itself. The greatest kabalas ol malchus Shomayim takes place when we demonstrate that everything we do is part of the malchus of Hashem.
Throughout history, great Rabbonim have taught us this lesson through their actions. For example, R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was the one who ran the welfare operations in Vilna for refugees after World War I and leading up to the turmoil of World War II. It was he who looked after the refugees and ensured that they had what they needed. Such is the role of the Rav: מוטל עליו עול הרבים—“the needs of the congregation are his responsibility.” If people are in trouble, they need to be able to turn to the Rabbonim. They must not feel that Rabbonim are merely religious functionaries. מאן מלכי רבנן–“Who are the kings? The Rabbis”—means that the responsibility of Rabbonim is all-encompassing and indivisible.
Another example: When the Ponovezher Rav moved to Ponovezh, one of the first things he did was to build a hospital. The Klausenberger Rebbe, too, built a hospital, and he said specifically that he did not want any preaching of Mitzvos inside the hospital, because he wanted people to understand that he had built it for all of Klal Yisroel. These gedolim did these things not despite the fact that they happened to be rabbis but because they were rabbis. Let me share with you one personal example. One of the biggest challenges which South African Jewry has had to deal with in recent years has been violent crime. I was very involved in the establishment of an organization called Community Active Protection (CAP) which, baruch Hashem, has brought down contact crime by over ninety percent. When Klal Yisroel is having trouble, they need to know they can turn to the Rabbonim. This is what Rabbonus means, to look after the needs of Klal Yisroel. Each Rav has to think about the pain and problems within his tzibur and what can be done to alleviate them.
Ha-Ma’or sheBah Machziran laMutav
The third way of bringing malchus Shomayim into the world is found in the Midrash where Hashem says that even if Klal Yisroel do not keep His Mitzvos, even if they forget Him, let them learn Torah because המאור שבה מחזירן למוטב—“the light of the Torah will bring them back.” The way to bring malchus Shomayim into this world is through learning Torah. It has a spiritual power which goes beyond anything logical. There is a light within Torah that can transform Klal Yisroel. However, as the Ramchal writes regarding this Midrash, this power applies only to Torah learning which is grounded in the acceptance of Torah min haShomayim and exists within the framework of Mitzvos. Without such acceptance, there is no light in it. The words may be the same but if the learning is in an atmosphere of heresy, the light will never permeate the soul.
If we want to bring malchus Shomayim into this world, ultimately it is the light of Torah learning which will accomplish this goal in a way that often defies the natural laws of human development. Pure, authentic Torah connects with the neshamah in a way which is completely above the natural world and has a profound ability to transform.
Harbatzas Torah—the teaching and spreading of light and Torah in the world—shines the light of Hashem’s wisdom on every part of life, thereby advancing the malchus Shomayim in this world. Quoting the verse, אור ותורה מצוה נר כי–“For the Mitzva is a lamp and Torah [learning] is light,” the Gemara compares this world to a dark forest filled with pitfalls and spiritual dangers and says that Mitzvos shine limited light, but Torah learning is like the sun rising, illuminating signposts for the way forward.
The Chofetz Chaim writes that the root of all ills in the Jewish world is ignorance of Torah, and worse than bitul Torah is shichechas haTorah, forgetting Torah entirely. One of the most sacred tasks of Rabbonim is to spread the study of Torah because ultimately Torah study is what transforms everything by guiding people in how to think and how to view the world.
The Eternity of Torah
In the Hakdamah to his Achi’ezer, R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski writes about how the Torah has the power to transform Klal Yisroel. R. Chaim Ozer published the first volume of the Achi’ezer in 1922, while the world was still reeling from the upheavals of World War I which had destroyed whole communities and from which the Jewish community never quite recovered. He writes: How can I publish a sefer in the midst of all this? הלא ישאל השואל, כלל ישראל טובעים בים של דמעות ואתם אומרים שירה??—“The Jewish people are drowning in a sea of tears, and some may wonder how I can write these words of Torah.” But then he writes that, on the contrary, precisely because it is such a time of crisis, it is the best time to publish a sefer, for what else if not Torah learning is going to save Klal Yisroel?
The key to the destiny of Klal Yisroel is limud haTorah; when it is done le-sheym Shomayim, it has the power to transform everything. R. Chaim Ozer wrote similar words in 1939, in his introduction to the third volume of Achiezer, just a year before his passing: “Even as I have been surrounded of late by personal and global trials and tribulations, especially during my illness, I said,לולא תורתך שעשועי אז אבדתי בעניי—“Had it not been for Your Torah—my treasure—I would have perished in my sorrows.” Torah is what holds us together.
The light and wisdom of God’s Torah dispel darkness—the darkness of exile and oppression, the darkness of suffering and affliction, the darkness of ignorance and superficiality, and the darkness of chaos and confusion. The light and wisdom of God’s Torah, His eternal word, connect His people to Him, and ultimately crown this world with His sovereignty.
The mandate of the Rabbi is to bring Hashem’s sovereignty into this world and to do so through personal example, through shouldering the burdens of the tzibur and through inspiring people with the light of Torah, the most precious gift of all. This essay is an invitation to begin a conversation about defining and framing a philosophy of Rabbinic leadership. It is an important conversation because deeper understanding in this area will ultimately lead to greater strategic clarity and inspiration in fulfilling the holy mission of Rabbinic leadership.
 Rabbi Goldstein is Chief Rabbi of South Africa.
 Mishley 8:15.
 Gitin 62a.
 Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1.
 Kiddushin 32a and 32b.
 Orach Chayim 231.
 Bava Kama 30a.
 R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Commentary to the Torah, Shemos 6:7.
 Pachad Yitzchok: Iggeros uKesavim (Brooklyn: HaMosad Gur Aryeh, 1981), no. 94.
 Berachos 13b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 61:4; literally, that we must extend the pronunciation of the letter Ches of the word Echad in reading the Shema.
 Yoma 86a.
 Shi’urey Da’as 3:1.
 Bereyshis Rabba, VaYigash.
 Horiyos 10a and b; Melachim I, 12;7.
 Horiyos, ibid.
 Midrash Rabba, Eycha, pesichta 2.
 Mishley 6:23.
 Sotah 21a.
 R. Yisroel Meir HaKohen, Toras HaBayis: “Eys La’asos.”
 “Hakdamah,” Achi’ezer, v. 1.