The Greatest Reward Of Public Service
‘…[He] Who Leads The Public Gently …’
Our Gemara cites the statement of Rabbi Eleazar, that “every leader who leads the public gently, earns the right to lead them in the World to Come.” A person who undertakes a public appointment and sees to the needs of the public earns many things. Accordingly Rav Huna said (Vayikra Rabah, Vilna edition, perek 25:1) that if a person committed a transgression punishable by death from Heaven (misah biy’dei shamayim), he should double his learning. “But what of one who is not accustomed to learning, how will he survive? He should become a leader of the public or a gabbai for charity and survive!”
A Public Appointment Not To Be Refused
It is obvious, then, that a person graced by Hashem with skills of leadership and initiative would do well to choose activity for the public good. Moreover, poskim also explain that a person should not refuse the public’s request to assume a position that can help the community (Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 257 in the name of the Mordechai; Darkei Moshe 256:2; Chochmas Adam, Kelal 147:29).
The Public Good Or One’s Own Torah Study?
Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, zt”l, was asked to decide the question of a Torah scholar who devoted his time to Torah study as well as teaching others, who was now asked to fill a public position. It was obvious to the individual that in so acquiescing his Torah studies would suffer. In his reply (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 18:81) Rabbi Waldenberg mentions Tosafos’ remark in Bava Basra 110a (s.v. Velo teima) that a talmid chacham should refrain from moving to a town where he would be encumbered by public responsibilities.
Torah Study Diminished
A Midrash (Shemos Rabah, parashah 6:2) in support of this view says that the study of a talmid chacham diminishes because of his dealing with the public and he comes to forget his learning. Therefore, Rabbi Waldenberg concludes, better that he continue learning and in that way sustain the world by his merit.
‘Impose The Voluntary?’
We find as well that in the days of the Maharsham, a similar question was asked of him. A community requested a certain person to fill a position for the public good but he refused (by the fact of his refusal we may assume that he was a rare exception). Nevertheless, they did not give up and asked the Maharsham (Responsa Maharsham, Kuntres Teiruk Olam, Choshen Mishpat 231) if they could impose the voluntary position upon him. The Maharsham replied that the author of Responsa Even Shoham had already posited from various sources that one must not force such a person. Nonetheless, one should emphasize to the person that the Gemara (Berachos 55a) recommends that one should not refuse opportunities that bear a blessing as one thereby rejects the Torah’s promise. Also, since assuming a public position saves a person from misah biy’dei shamayim, someone who refuses such a position declines that blessing.