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Who Is the Giant of a Generation, the Gadol Hador?

Published on Tuesday August 11th, 2020

The concept of Gadol Hador is neither a modern nor innovative idea. This honorable title dates to the first Jew who appeared in the annals of history. The Gadol Hador or Giant of the generation is the Jewish People's spiritual guide par excellence.

The first Gadol Hador was unequivocally Abraham Avinu, who revealed the existence of a unique God –Abraham was the founder of monotheism. Before his time, Hashem was considered a God of the heavens. But Abraham made it clear that Hashem is also the God of the earth. And he spread this idea of Hashem's reign in the world. Abraham brought back masses of people to monotheism. It is taught in Midrash Rabbah (Bereshit, Lech Lecha) that Abraham converted the men and Sarah (his wife) converted the women.

Yitzhak Avinu succeeded his father and taught the world the notion of rigor in divine service, as well as the fear of heaven, while his father had distinguished himself through the attribute of kindness, manifested by his unparalleled hospitality. Lastly, Yaakov Avinu, the pillar of truth, the Torah and its study gave birth to the twelve tribes that constituted the Jewish People.

If we jump start history, we gain access to Aaron HaKohen who lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian exile up to the point where Hashem designated Moshe Rabbenu as the People's liberator. This relay passage between Aaron HaKohen and his younger brother reveals the magnitude of Aaron's soul. When he learned about his brother's ascension to the highest role, he felt no bitterness. Quite the contrary. Even Hashem communicated with Moshe on Aaron's behalf: "He will see you and rejoice on your behalf"(Exodus 4:14). This authentic magnanimity is one of the characteristics of genuine Jewish leaders, who do not seek self-aggrandizement but pursue a life of service to Hashem and the Jewish People.

Of course, when we speak about genuine leaders, we must stress Moshe Rabbenu's outstanding humility. As it is written: " And the man Moshe is the humblest amid all the men that have walked the earth". (Bamidbar 12:13). While we are taught that Moshe Rabbenu had equal weight in importance as the entire Jewish People, he did not see himself as such. Following the sin of the Goldern Calf, Hashem expressed his wish to destroy the Jewish People and start a new generation from Moshe's offspring, Moshe not only refused but implored Hashem to forgive their sin or else erase his name from the Torah. "And now, forgive their sin. And if you refuse, then erase my name from the book you have written". (Exodus 32,32)

Moshe Rabbenu is the Gadol Hador par excellence; he received the Torah from Hashem in person and transmitted it to the People patiently and devotedly. Most particularly, he transmitted the Torah to his most important disciple: Yehoshuah Bin Nun. The latter would be designated by Hashem as Moshe's successor. Thus, we may observe that the Jewish People's direction is ensured by a chain of forefront leaders, whose fundamental characteristic is their desire to serve Hashem without ulterior motives.

Approaching a more contemporary historical period, we study the case of Mordechai HaYehudi, who was also the Gadol Hador of his generation. In his time, a critical question arose: "Should Jews take part in Achashverosh's banquet?" Jewish political figures of that time, as explained by Rabbi Galinski in his book on Meguilat Esther (an article on Emunat Chachamim), highly recommended that Jews take part in the banquet. It would have been unthinkable to lose favor in the eyes of the King, who wished to cement his reign by flaunting his power and wealth in front of the People. But this advice goes against the Daat Torah (Torah's authentic comprehension and knowledge), which rules that only the genuine Gedolim of the generation, inspired by the divine spirit can give adequate direction for the survival and well-being of the Jewish People. Mordechai HaYehudi had grasped the banquet's concealed purpose: a rebellion against Hashem, based on King Achashverosh belief that Jeremiah's prophecy concerning the Temple's reconstruction after a period of seventy years would not come to fruition. (According to his erroneous calculations, 70 years had passed since its destruction). Achashverosh wished to celebrate what he considered a victory over the God of Israel. His invitation was a cunning trap to incite the Jews to sin via a decadent drinking party and a dreadful orgy, seducing them into lust and debauchery. The idea was to entice the Jews to drink from the vessels of the Holy Temple and thus make them sacrifice their moral restraint in a masquerade set up by King Achashverosh who was to wear the robes of the High Priest.

Jewish political leaders of the time had not perceived the King's cunning strategy. All they were able to discern was Achashverosh's biased speech, meant to flatter Jewish national pride by inviting them to partake at the feast. Only a Gadol such as Mordechai was able to perceive the imminent and disastrous danger that hovered over the Jewish People if they participated in the banquet, which was nothing else than an immense profanation of the divine name (Hillul Hashem).

Forward to the last few generations, it is imperative to know that the Jewish People have always been guided by the Gedolei Torah (the Scholars of the generation), whose numbers are small scale: the Rambam, the Ramban, the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov…up until the time of the Haskala in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century which witnessed the birth of a movement that is erroneously called: "The Jewish Movement of Lights". Far from bringing light, this movement, initiated by Moshe Mendelssohn did nothing more than question the Rabbis' and the Gedolei HaDor's authority, by gradually imposing secular direction, a matter that has had a negative ripple effect to date. In fact, there is no greater woe for the Jewish People than having a secular government. As explained by Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman (a distinguished student of the Chafetz Chaim, one of the contemporary Gedolim) in his Kovetz Maamarim, the Jewish People cannot hope to live in peace with their neighbors, particularly within the Middle Eastern context, when their political leaders have declared an open war against the Master of the Universe.

Contemporary Gedolim, and particularly the Ben Ish Chai, who founded the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem and later the Chazon Ish, established the modern tenets for a Jewish life based on Torah in Eretz Israel. The Chazon Ish, through intense study and clear direction, immensely contributed to the development of the Torah world and towards making Bnei Brak a Torah metropolis. Rabbi Shach was a prominent leader of the People and made the voice of Torah heard among Israeli politicians.

Of course, we cannot end this presentation, without mentioning the exceptional figure of Maran, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Zatsal. In this respect, it has been said: "Mi Maran haBeth Yossef ad Maran, lo kam ke Maran". Since the time of Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch) up until Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, there has never existed a more prominent scholarly figure.

Indeed, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef gave new relevance to the halachic decisions of Rabbi Yosef Karo, who was nicknamed Maran, our Master and whose halachic decisions were accepted by the entire Jewish people. Maran reinstituted the former pride of Sephardic decision-makers.  Thanks to his unique personality and diligence in exhaustive study, he succeeded in bringing about the re-emergence of the Sephardic Torah world, now a credible rival against Ashkenazi Torah. There are countless Talmudei-Torah (religious elementary schools), Yechivot, Kollelim (study frameworks for married men on scholarships) filled almost exclusively with Sephardic Jews.

 Such is the impact of the Gedolim; they can transform the face of a generation and spread the word of God to thirsty, truth-seeking souls.

Rav Emmanuel BOUKOBZA - © Torah-Box

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