This isn’t sponsored content by Procter & Gamble for Head and Shoulders shampoo. As someone who has been selling advertising for this newspaper for over a decade and a half, I have noticed ads from time to time in other publications from major corporations like NY Lotto, Coca Cola, the NY Yankees, and the like. I have always wondered if these corporations actually felt the need to target the Jewish readership with their advertising dollars or it was just some sort of ploy by the publishers to deceive its readers into thinking that their newspaper draws attention to some of the leading corporations in today’s market.
I’ve titled this piece “Head and Shoulders” because I wrote this on Election Day which was our opportunity as citizens of this state to decide who our governor and senators will be leading up to the presidential election in 2024. I know that you are all probably sick and tired of hearing about the election—so am I. However, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre already predicted that it’ll take a few days before all the legal votes will be counted. So although this might cause flashbacks from the presidential election just two years ago, on these grounds I deemed it worthy of writing about the election despite the fact that by the time you read this the voting will hopefully be done.
One of the main philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans is in large government versus small government. It almost seems as if Democrat leaders are vying for power whereas their Republican challengers are seeking to represent the people, as the Declaration of Independence begins, “We the people…” implying that the people are in power and the government is comprised of public servants who are there to serve and protect the people who voted them into power.
As a result, I wanted to analyze the relationship between leaders and followers, or, as the title suggests, the head versus the body (or, in this case, the shoulders) and whether the head leads the body or the body leads the head. The following idea came to me earlier this week when I noticed a couple of rebbes who had traveled from Eretz Yisrael to our community and were in shul on Monday and Tuesday at Khal Mevakshei Hashem. On Monday, as I was leaving shul, I noticed a car in the shul parking lot with a chassidish driver and what seemed to be a rebbish looking individual in the passenger seat whose identity I was not immediately able to discern. It wasn’t until later in the day that it was brought to my attention that it was the famous Toldos Aharon Rebbe, Rav Dovid Kohn, who has a large sect of chassidim in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood as well as in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
The next day, on Tuesday, our shul was graced with the presence of the Spinka Rebbe from Bnei Brak, Rabbi Sruly Weiss, who is a personality I am more familiar with as he travels here a few times a year, is often a visitor in our Cedarhurst offices, and has participated in our family simchas.
It occurred to me that just one month ago, in the month of Tishrei, chassidim of all sects were making pilgrimages to spend the month of holidays in the presence of their Rebbes; the month of Cheshvan, it seems, is a month wherein Rebbes come to visit the chassidim. I will spend the next few lines and paragraphs unpacking the depth behind this observation and will conclude with a prayer that cuts to the core of the relationship between leaders and followers and the ideal reality that will be established in the messianic era.
I came across the following story in a book on Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Yehoshua heard Eldad and Meidad prophesying when they said, “Moshe is going to die and Yehoshua will lead the Jewish nation into Eretz Yisrael.” In an expression of utter contempt, Yehoshua exhorted his rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu, to get rid of Eldad and Meidad for what seemed to him, as a faithful student of Moshe, a treasonous prophecy. In response, however, Moshe launched into a prayer when he said, “What would I give for the entire nation of G-d to be prophets!”
As a result of calling for their death, Yehoshua was punished by not having a son his entire life.
“This is Moshe? You think that it is the will of Moshe to preclude the existence of other leaders or prophets in his midst? Do you think that a true tzaddik is jealous of other tzaddikim or intimidated by their presence? Does the existence of great scholars, leaders, and wonder-makers detract from the tzaddik of the generation in any manner?”
In this week’s parashah, after Avraham Avinu is circumcised and is sitting in the presence of G-d Who had come to check on his condition three days after the procedure; Avraham asks G-d to wait for him while he runs to tend to the needs of three passersby to whom he sought to offer food and shelter from the sweltering conditions. Chazal deduce from this that inviting guests takes precedence to the reception of the glory of G-d.
We all understand inviting guests as having friends or family over for Shabbos or yom tov. In other words, to open your home and share your space with outsiders. However, the true dimension of the mitzvah of inviting guests is to invite a complete and total stranger who would have no place to stay if it weren’t for your largesse.
However, in sod or penimiyus, the word “orei’ach,” which means “guest,” is a conjunction of the words “ohr ches” meaning the “light of eight.” The eighth blessing in Shemoneh Esrei is Refaenu Hashem v’neirafei, the blessing praising G-d’s ability to heal the sick. The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Lubavitch, teaches that the word “choleh,” which is Hebrew for “ill” has the numerical value of 49 and is one shy of 50. The significance of the number 50 is that it is representative of the 50 gates of binah, which Moshe could only achieve in his death, being buried on Mount Nevo, which is a conjunction of “nun bo.” Based on this, the Tzemach Tzedek teaches that the root of all illness is manifest as a deficiency in spiritual attainment. Therefore, the inner fulfillment of the mitzvah of inviting guests is for the leaders of the Jewish people to invite the representatives of the body of the Jewish nation into their visionary ranks.
In Chassidus it is often taught that the legs are capable of transporting the head to places it could not reach on its own. In other words, notwithstanding the preeminence of the head over the body in a hierarchical realm, the truth is that there is an advantage to the legs over the head in the sense that it can move physically from one place to another while the head, with all its greatness, is confined to one place without them.
Tishrei is a month of the King, and as Chazal say, “man malkei rabbanan,” our leaders are the physical manifestation of sovereignty in our midst. In another citation from our sages, it says, “Tzaddikim domim l’boram,” the righteous are likened to their Creator. So if Tishrei is a month wherein we establish our relationship with G-d in the year ahead then it is meant to be spent in the company of leaders and rebbes.
However, Cheshvan is the month when the simple folk like us have the ability of rising to the level of rebbe. Like I wrote last week in the name of Rebbe Hillel of Paritch: “In the messianic era the gentiles will rise to the level of opponents, the opponents will rise to the level of chassidim, and chassidim will rise to the level of rebbes.” Like Moshe Rabbeinu said: “What would I give for all of the nation of G-d to be prophets!”
The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that there are three stages in the transformation of reality: hachna’ah, havdalah, and hamtakah. In English it would be thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The first stage in equalizing the head and the shoulders, leaders and followers, is for the leaders to yield to the followers. This means first and foremost that we need to elect an administration that works for the people and not the other way around. This will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of the Messianic promise of: “No longer will man need to teach his fellow, or man his brother, saying, ‘Be aware of G-d,’ for all of reality, from the youngest in society to the oldest, from the most learned to the most ignorant, will intuitively know G-d and we will call to Him on our own.” n
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.