A few days ago, I was on my way to the Kollel at 8:40 a.m. as usual. Inhaling deeply from the clear Yerushalmi air, I took in the hustle and bustle of the early morning traffic in Ramat Eshkol. 8:45 is an early start for a Kollel, but the Center for Kehillah Development isn’t a regular Kollel, and the city is up much earlier.
I have a few different ways that I use to get to the Beis Medrash, but no matter which path I take, I usually bump into at least one of the other Avreichim, as we all converge on 21 Ramat Hagolan. Today, Reb Yaakov Marmor zips past me on his bike. And as I get closer, Reb Eliezer Besser is just pulling up in his car from Har Nof. People use all different modes of transportation to get to the CKD, and they come from all over Yerushalaim.
As I settle down in my seat, I think about how many different personalities we have in the program. Not only do our Avreichim come from all over the world, they also come from so many different upbringings. I am from northern Canada, and we have representation from Eastern Canada as well. Looking around the room, I see Reb Menachem Ostroff from England, and there’s Reb Besser again, from Brazil. Reb Yehoshua Dovid Teller is our in-house Israeli. And the rest of the guys are from all over the United States.
Most of us have been religious from birth. Many were born and raised in the heart of New York and New Jersey. And some of us made the transition to Orthodox Judaism at a young age. Some at an older age. We all attended different Yeshivas in America and in Israel. We really are an eclectic group. Pretty much the only thing we all have in common is that we are all very hard workers and totally committed to Klal work.
Looking around the CKD reminds me of an amazing vort that one of our Avreichim, Reb Daniel Sumner, shared with us a few weeks ago. Every week, two of the Kollel members present a novel idea on one of the upcoming Parshios.
Reb Sumner shared with us a thought on Parshas Yisro. We know that when Yisro came to join the Jewish nation in the desert, he suggested totally revamping the court system that the Yidden had been using. Up until then, Moshe Rabbeinu was the only judge, and he was busy from dawn until dusk. Yisro suggested implementing a system wherein one officer would supervise every thousand people, one every hundred people, one every fifty, and one every ten. This way the lower-level judges would be able to take care of all the small-time claims, and anything that was more difficult would be passed up the hierarchy, progressing only if necessary. Eventually only the most difficult cases would be presented to Moshe.
The Ibn Ezra asks a glaring question. If you do the math, it turns out that Yisro suggested to appoint over 70,000 judges. Why in the world was that necessary? One judge for every ten people! Seriously, were they getting into that many arguments in the desert? What were they doing already? They didn’t really even have anything to fight about? Reb Sumner made the question even stronger. Not only do they seem to have had an unnecessary number of judges, but the way Chazal describe it, they couldn’t really find that many judges of the necessary caliber. In the end, they resorted to appointing people who didn’t really fit the bill. Why in the world would they specifically create a system that necessitated the appointment of people who were minimally fit for the job, in order to provide a seemingly unnecessarily large number of judges?
Reb Sumner posited the following. When Yisro made his suggestion to reconstruct the hierarchy of leadership in the Jewish Nation, he accomplished two things. The first was the obvious one, to make more available judges. But for that reason alone, they really didn’t need that many judges. And certainly not ones that weren’t qualified. The reason for all those extra individuals, was to fix the second problem!
It is obvious to all of us, that Moshe was the leader of the Jewish Nation. He called all the shots as he was directed by Hashem. But it wasn’t possible for every individual to have a personal relationship with Moshe. And Yisro realized that this was a problem. People need to be able to develop a relationship with the person that is going to be their guide. You could have Moshe himself be at the head, but if your regular average Jewish citizen was never going to even get close to him, how could he be expected to really consider Moshe to be his Rebbe?
They couldn’t be expected to learn from Moshe, to be influenced by him, and to receive the Torah from him. And even if they would have appointed a thousand people under Moshe, still, could you expect almost two million people to be able to develop personal relationships with those thousand leaders. Yisro realized that there is a certain ratio of people to leaders that was necessary. And wow! is that ratio low. One leader for every ten people. That’s what he suggested, and apparently, Hashem agreed. With such a low ratio, every leader could forge a close and personal relationship with the people that he was guiding. And as we pointed out before, those leaders weren’t necessarily completely competent. But they didn’t have to be. Their main job was not to be the teachers, but rather to help build a chain.
You see, if each of those small groups of people that he oversaw felt that they had a connection to him as their leader, well, he was overseen by the leaders of fifty with whom he had a relationship. And as you went up the chain of command, the numbers remained small enough, that every person was able to develop a relationship with a person above them. In the end, everyone in the Jewish Nation had a close relationship with somebody that was able to guide them, if not based on their own knowledge, then based on the support they received from the infrastructure that Yisro created.
This alone would be an amazing vort, but Reb Summer took it one step further!
The Pasuk states “Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well-known to your tribes, and I shall appoint as your heads.” Rashi explains “well-known to your tribes” means that they recognized the people they appointed, they grew up with them. And as the Pasuk states “Provide for yourselves.” The whole point of appointing these intermediate leaders was so that people would be able to have a guide that they were comfortable with, that they didn’t feel distanced from. But we see from here another point. It wasn’t just that there was a small group of constituents for each randomly appointed Rav. Rather each group of ten men got together and chose a leader for themselves! They chose someone that they grew up with. That could relate to them, because he had a similar past!
This really resonated with me.
And as I look around the Kollel, I think about how the CKD is really following this mantra. Be a leader. But be a leader that the people can connect to. That’s the beauty of our group. With people from every background, aspiring to all sorts of accomplishments, we really are in a position to develop leaders who will be able to connect with every part of the Jewish Nation.
And that’s something that is so important in today’s day and age. Something which in some communities is missing. When you look around the world, it’s not too hard to see that sometimes there’s a disconnect between the leaders and the community. And that disconnect can have immensely negative repercussions.
How can someone guide a community if they can’t relate to it? How can a community know which direction to take if no one who understands them is willing to guide them?
We need to learn from Yisro’s advice. People, communities, need to build relationships with their leaders. And the leaders have to be able to understand and relate to their followers. So when I look around the room and I see these amazing Avreichim who know what it’s like to live in town, or out of town. What it is like to come from any corner of the world. To grow up in the fold, or out. It’s obvious to me, that there is someone here that can relate to anyone out there. And one day Iy”H, they are all going to be out there in the world, building relationships, and changing the way people think. And that makes me proud to be a member of the Center for Kehillah Development.
* For More information about the Center for Kehilla Development, visit www.c4kd.org.