Reflections of Humility, Unity, and the Pitfalls of Divisive Leadership

11 min read

I recently posted a quote on Facebook that garnered some attention, and I believe it needs additional clarification.

The quote: “A Rabbi who ‘frequently’ labels others as heretics, especially fellow Jews, reflects a spirit of divisiveness and arrogance, which stands in stark contrast to the humility and unity that HaShem desires from us. Beware of such speech, for it fosters discord rather than the sanctity and brotherhood that Torah seeks to cultivate.”

The term “frequently” describes events or actions that happen often or repeatedly within a specific time frame. It suggests a regularity or common occurrence, but does not specify exact intervals. The word “frequently” denotes a pattern of regular occurrence.

A particular Rabbi online (Rabbi A), many of his students assumed that my quote was about him. ‘Rabbi A’ recently went against another Rabbi online (Rabbi B) by sharing a judgment from their own beit din against him. Regardless of whether ‘Rabbi A’s beit din is recognized, he published documents online about a popular Chabad rabbi, ‘Rabbi B’, stating he is a heretic, and shared clips of ‘Rabbi B’ that one could easily perceive to be taken out of context. For example, similar to how other religions often interpret the book of Isaiah by quoting verses to assert their claims but neglecting all the pre-context and post-context. In a similar light, one can make wildly absurd claims about anyone or anything.

Interestingly, the students of ‘Rabbi A’ failed to notice that my quote was published many hours in advance of their Rabbi sharing his assertions against ‘Rabbi B’. The timestamp on my quote and on ‘Rabbi A’s posts on Facebook reveal this truth.

What did we learn from the parasha of the spies? The Kli Yakar in his commentary suggests that the 10 spies were projecting their unrefined character traits onto others. Essentially, the problem within themselves, they perceived to see in others.

Now, this week we were in Parashat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32), and we see something similar play out. Korach asserted claims against Moshe and Aharon that were baseless and clearly a demonstration of a power grab led by their divisiveness and arrogance, which stands in stark contrast to the humility and unity that HaShem desires from us. It further demonstrates the exact opposite of Moshe, as he showed great humility, love, and respect for the Israelites, and reverence for HaShem, which he demonstrated in multiple ways, one such being when he threw himself on his face over the incident with Korach.

Moshe repeatedly shows us what qualities a leader must demonstrate continuously throughout the Torah. Another example is after he witnessed the golden calf, he demonstrated remarkable leadership qualities and risked his own life to save everyone. We are warned about what destroyed the Second Temple and kept us in exile for 2,000 years, but for some reason, we often look to others as the cause for our continued exile, failing to recognize the exile mentality within ourselves. Our sages warned us about who can be a teacher, and whom it is permissible to learn from. Any extreme is in contrast to the values of Torah, whether it’s leniency or its opposite, a spirit of overzealousness.

In this particular situation regarding ‘Rabbi A’ going against ‘Rabbi B’, potentially all of the following apply: Lashon Hara (prohibited speech), Halbanat Panim (public shaming), projection, not giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and judging others hastily. Interestingly, the students of ‘Rabbi A’ mimicked what they learned and did exactly the same thing when they attacked my post. Let’s not forget, when I posted my quote it was during Parashat Korach and it was in absolutely no way addressed to anyone, let alone about anyone in particular. HaShem led me to post the quote, so thus I did, not ever expecting that anyone would go against it, as it embodied absolute truth and the essence of Torah.

I am not here to name to you who the erev rav are one by one, but I tell you that they are our leaders just as the prophet Isaiah states, “the leaders in the final generation will be the erev rav,” and no, he wasn’t talking solely about our perceived Israel government. Yes, the Israel government does embody the essence of the erev rav, but who are they a reflection of?

Why are 80% of Jews now secular, reform, or conservative? Does their existence in any way have anything to do with us? The Kotzker Rebbe stated, “When you see a flaw in your fellow, it is a reflection of what is inside of you.” This teaching is cited in various Chassidic works and underscores the mirror-like nature of our perceptions of others.

Rabbi Kaplan explores the parallels between quantum physics and Kabbalistic concepts. He discusses how the interconnectedness of particles in quantum physics can be likened to the idea that our souls are interconnected and that our interactions reflect our inner realities. In “Likkutei Moharan” 1:282, Rabbi Nachman teaches, “When you notice a fault in another person, it should be taken as a sign to examine yourself and correct the same fault within you.”

In “Michtav Me’Eliyahu” (Strive for Truth), Rabbi Dessler discusses how our reactions to others reflect our own inner spiritual state. He emphasizes that recognizing this can lead to greater self-awareness and growth (Vol. 1, Part 4). Rabbi Salanter is known for his teachings on Mussar, which emphasize ethical self-improvement. He stated, “The faults you see in others are your own reflection.” This principle is central to his approach to ethical and spiritual growth. In his commentary on Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 33:4), the Kli Yakar explains that Esau’s reaction to Jacob reflects Jacob’s own internal state. This commentary implies that the behavior of others towards us can serve as a reflection of our inner spiritual condition.

The Zohar, particularly in Zohar II, 94b, uses the metaphor of the “aspaklaria” (mirror) to describe how the divine light reflects through the worlds and into the souls of individuals, suggesting that our spiritual interactions are reflective of our inner states. In “Likkutei Torah,” Parashat Kedoshim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman states, “When a person sees a blemish in another, it is a sign of a similar blemish within himself.”

With all that being said, what do the following attributes say about our current collective state: Lashon Hara, Halbanat Panim, projection, not giving the benefit of the doubt to others, judging others hastily, authoritarian personality, insecurity and need for validation, cognitive dissonance, social identity and group cohesion, conformity, fear of ostracism, echo chambers, internalization of division, erosion of unity, inhibition of open dialogue, spiritual stagnation, and lack of humility.

The mitzvah of not eating pig, found in Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:7, teaches us profound lessons about external appearances and internal realities. On the surface, the pig possesses split hooves, which are a physical sign of a kosher animal. However, it lacks the crucial characteristic of chewing its cud, disqualifying it as kosher. This discrepancy between appearance and inner reality serves as a powerful metaphor for our spiritual lives. The lesson within this mitzvah goes beyond dietary laws. It reminds us to look deeper than outward appearances. Just as the pig’s outer semblance of kashrut is deceptive, we too must ensure that our inner spiritual state aligns with our external behaviors. We must strive for integrity, where our actions reflect our true inner values and commitments to HaShem.

Furthermore, this mitzvah emphasizes the importance of internal transformation. We are called to let the Torah permeate our hearts and minds, transforming us from the inside out. It’s not enough to perform mitzvot outwardly; they must be rooted in genuine understanding and internalized commitment. Just as the pig’s outward appearance cannot change its inner nature, we must ensure that our spiritual growth is authentic and profound. The secret within this mitzvah is the call to authenticity and true alignment with HaShem’s will. As we study Torah and engage in mitzvot, we should allow these divine teachings to transform our inner selves. This inner transformation will naturally reflect in our outward actions, creating harmony between our external observance and internal spirituality. The pig reminds us that true kashrut, and indeed true holiness, begins within the heart and soul, manifesting in every aspect of our lives.

By internalizing this lesson, we can ensure that our journey through life is not merely about appearances but about cultivating a sincere and deep relationship with HaShem. Let the Torah change us from within, leading to a life of true integrity and devotion. Reflect on the flaws you see in others, for they are mirrors to your own soul.

In the situation of ‘Rabbi A’ and ‘Rabbi B’, we can see how divisiveness and arrogance can lead to unnecessary conflict and discord. The actions taken by ‘Rabbi A’, whether driven by personal grievances or a misguided sense of zealotry, are not in line with the teachings of humility and unity exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe, when confronted with Korach’s rebellion, did not immediately condemn or retaliate; instead, he fell on his face and sought HaShem’s guidance (Numbers 16:4). This act of humility and seeking divine counsel rather than acting out of ego or pride is a lesson for us all.

Our sages have long warned us about the dangers of lashon hara and halbanat panim. The Chofetz Chaim, in his seminal work “Chofetz Chaim” (Laws of Lashon Hara 1:1), meticulously outlines the severe spiritual and communal damages caused by slander and public shaming. When a leader engages in these behaviors, the repercussions are magnified as their influence extends over many. This is why it is crucial for leaders to model the highest ethical standards and for their followers to hold them accountable.

The psychological analysis of a Rabbi who frequently labels others as heretics reveals underlying issues of insecurity, need for validation, and cognitive dissonance. Such behavior often stems from an inability to reconcile internal conflicts, leading to the projection of these issues onto others. This mirrors the story of the spies in Parashat Shelach, where the spies projected their own fears and insecurities onto the land of Israel and its inhabitants (Numbers 13:31-33). Their lack of faith and negative report led to widespread panic and despair among Bnei Yisrael, highlighting the destructive power of negative speech and false perceptions.

Similarly, the students of ‘Rabbi A’ mimic their leader’s behavior, attacking my post and perpetuating the cycle of judgment and divisiveness. This phenomenon of echo chambers and groupthink stifles open dialogue and inhibits spiritual growth. As Rabbi Dessler points out in “Michtav Me’Eliyahu,” our reactions to others are reflections of our own spiritual state. By recognizing this, we can turn these moments into opportunities for self-improvement and greater unity.

The teachings of Rabbi Nachman in “Likkutei Moharan” and Rabbi Shneur Zalman in “Likkutei Torah” reinforce the idea that our perceptions of others serve as mirrors to our own souls. When we see faults in others, it is a call to examine and rectify similar faults within ourselves. This introspection can lead to a more compassionate and understanding community, where we support each other’s growth rather than tearing each other down.

The mitzvah of not eating pig, with its emphasis on inner qualities over external appearances, serves as a powerful metaphor for our spiritual lives. It reminds us that true piety and holiness come from within, and that our actions should reflect our inner commitment to HaShem. Just as the pig’s outward appearance does not make it kosher, our outward displays of piety must be matched by genuine inner devotion.

In conclusion, let us strive to embody the humility and unity that HaShem desires from us. Let us be mindful of our speech, avoiding lashon hara and halbanat panim, and instead promoting peace and brotherhood. Let us hold our leaders to high ethical standards and encourage them to lead by example. And let us use our perceptions of others as opportunities for self-reflection and growth, fostering a community built on mutual respect and understanding.

May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days, as we work towards a world of unity, peace, and true devotion to HaShem.

Amen v’Amen.

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