Parashat Ki Tavo – on respecting the leaders of ‘our own days’

Rabbi Mark Fasman serves Congregation Kol Rinah and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

BY RABBI MARK FASMAN

“It shall be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell therein, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground … and you shall come to the priest that shall be in those days ….”

The Talmud asks, “Would it come into your mind to come to a priest that was not living in your days?” Rather, “you need not to seek to go to any judge (priest) other than the one that is in one’s own days.”

Sifre goes even further: “Even if he is not like the other judges who were before him, you must listen to him; you have only the judge of your own time. Even if he tells you regarding the right that it is left, or regarding the left that it is right, and certainly so if he tells you regarding the right that it is right, and regarding the left that it is left.” We must rely on our leaders even when we are convinced they are wrong!

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Our current leaders may be vastly inferior to those of past generations, or perhaps they are far superior to them. We will only know in retrospect. We can look to past leaders for guidance and precedent in forming our views of public policy, but our society lives in the present and we must accept the authority of our current leaders (even if we disagree with their decisions).

Similarly, our current “priests” – i.e. rabbis -may be vastly inferior to those of past generations. Some hold that as we get further from Sinai each generation is necessarily inferior to the generation before. And others hold that each generation is necessarily superior to the generations it replaces for it stands on their shoulders.

Surely, neither approach is necessarily correct. After a generation has passed, we may know if they were more attuned to God’s will. But Torah’s wisdom is that we must not rely upon the decisions of the edited past or of an idealized future.

Our American Jewish community faces many difficult challenges with many possible answers. The great leaders of the past have a claim on us; we have much to learn from them. Who we are today, we owe to them; but for what we do today, we must rely on our present leaders.

The leaders of the past did what they thought best for their community. Maybe they were 100% right at the time, but I doubt it. In our time we will surely make mistakes. However, we have to recognize the authority, if not the decisions, of those who have been chosen to lead us in our generation.

We will be judged by the future, by our children and their children. May it be God’s will that our choices today will be judged worthy tomorrow by the judges of their time.

Rabbi Mark Fasman serves Shaare Zedek Synagogue and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.