Tag Archives: leadership

Does Unity Always Demand Passivity?

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)

How is it pleasing to the Lord when hungry believers with different backgrounds and viewpoints, come together in a spirit of unity to study and apply His Word? What Christ-honoring qualities, in Ephesians 4:1-3, do we need to embrace in order for this to happen?

-from the Sunday school study notes for June 8th

I know I’ve accused myself (and been accused by my wife) of collapsing the Tent of David because of my arrogant presumption, which has subsequently caused me to question my role in the church (if any, beyond being a pew-warmer in services and a silent witness in Sunday school), but I’ve got just one question: are we supposed to “dumb down” the Bible and ignore blatant error for the sake of unity among believers?

I’m really tempted to ask my Sunday school teacher that question, but I know it would just stir up hard feelings (and I’ve done that before).

We’re studying Acts 22:22-29 and somehow my Sunday school teacher has gotten the impression that Paul became all humble, meek, and mild for the sake of Jesus Christ. Really, the last thing I imagine Paul to be in the face of adversity is meek and mild. I also think Christians largely misunderstand humility, especially in leadership.

Moses’s humility was a function of his greatness. Penetrating more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of things than anyone before or since, he was more acutely aware of his ignorance. As the Torah relates at Mount Sinai: “Moses approached the thick cloud where God was” (Exodus 20:18).

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“The Inscription on My Father’s Tombstone,” pg 498,
May 28, 1994
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

To make his point, he recast a verse in which Moses declares: “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you — indeed, you are the smallest of peoples” (Deut. 7:17). Nevertheless, the midrash continues, “the Holy One Praised Be He told Israel that I love you because each time I bestow greatness upon you, you shrink yourself before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham and he said to Me: ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Upon Moses and Aaron and they said: ‘who are we?’ (Ex. 16:7) Upon David and he said: ‘I am a worm, less than human'” (Psalm 22:7).

-ibid,
“The Humblest of Men,” pg 513, June 5, 2004

Reb Yakov Kamenetzky
Reb Yakov Kamenetzky

And from another source:

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky was about to take his place at the end of a long line waiting to board a bus, when someone in the front of the line who knew him called out, “Rebbe, you can come here in front of me!”

“I’m not permitted to,” replied Rav Yaakov. “It would be stealing.”

“I give you permission. I don’t mind.”

“But what about everybody else behind you?” said the Rosh Hayeshiva. “I would be stealing their time and choice of seat by moving them back one. Who says they allow me to?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“Even when traveling be careful to observe Torah values,” pg 320
Quoting The Jewish Observer, Nov., 1985
Growth Through Torah

Here we see that humility is a reflection of strength of character and the upholding of Torah values (or Biblical values if you prefer), and is not the result of a person willing to sacrifice those values for the sake of unity, peace, or to prevent a “spirited debate.”

Certainly no one could accuse Abraham, Moses, Aaron, or David of being “meek and mild” and unable or unwilling to take a strong personal stand for what is right just to avoid an argument or to dodge a disagreement.

That said, we can also see from Rav Kamenetzky’s example that it is also required to sacrifice personal convenience for the sake of said-values, and from that, I derive the principle that you don’t enter into a debate, even if you think you’re correct, just for the sake of being right and proving the other person or people wrong.

I continually struggle with that last bit, even as I compose this blog post and anticipate (as I write this) Sunday school tomorrow morning (yesterday as you read this).

And as compelling as the examples I’ve already presented may be, there’s one more that should “seal the deal” so to speak:

When the ten heard this, they began to be upset with Ya’akov and Yochanan. Yeshua called to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles are the ones who oppress them, and their great ones dominate them. But it is not to be that way among you. Rather, one who desires to be great among you is to be as a servant to you, and the one who desires to be the head will be a slave to all. For even the son of man did not come in order to be served, but rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:41-45 (DHE Gospels)

It is true, and Chancellor Schorsch supports this in his commentary, that people operating outside of the Covenant community (Gentiles, in Schorsch’s as well as Jesus’ case) have leaders who feed off of power and self-glorification, while leaders in Judaism, at least in the ideal, become more humble as God heaps greatness upon them.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

But as I said, this doesn’t mean humility equals passivity.

In the Temple he found merchants of cattle, flocks, and young doves and those who give change for money sitting there. He took cords, twisted them into a whip, and drove all of them out of the Temple, along with the flocks and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To the dove merchants he said, “Take these out of here, and do not make my Father’s House into a marketplace!” His disciples remembered the passage, “For the zeal of your House has consumed me.”

John 2:14-17 (DHE Gospels)

Of course, that hardly gives me license to make a whip and go charging into Sunday school, even metaphorically, for the sake of making a theological point. On the other hand, if unity were the single, overriding priority in the community of faith, then we would never see any Jewish leader, including Jesus, take a strong, personal stand for the sake of Heaven.

There is a line in the sand that, once crossed, must provoke a response. So on the one hand, I could have been wrong to remain silent in Sunday school class when I felt that line had been crossed. On the other hand, I need to choose my battles. I usually do that in class, selecting only one or two points in the class notes to address openly, but even then, it doesn’t always work out.

How do I tell my Sunday school teacher (or do I tell him at all) that unity is not the be all and end all of communal life in the congregation of Christ?

Be careful not to become involved in quarrels with your friends. Arguments will only create distance between you and others.

The most effective approach to avoid needless arguments is to master the ability to remain silent. You don’t have to say everything you think of saying. At times there is an actual need to clarify a specific point and it’s appropriate to speak up. But a large percentage of arguments come from making comments that don’t need to be made.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted at Aish.com

By the time you read this (Monday morning), I might have the answer.

Addendum: It’s Sunday afternoon and Sunday school class actually worked out better than I thought it would. I’ll write more about this later.

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Where Did the Last Mentor Go?

In grammar school, you had a new teacher every year. Just when you became familiar with one teacher, it was time to move up a grade and meet the next one. As adults, we need to take a different approach. Ideally, you should find one mentor to use throughout your life.

To find the right mentor, don’t just take the nearest expert, the one on the block. “Shop” intelligently. Get references. Check credentials. See if he lives honestly and consistently with his knowledge. Test his wisdom with questions. Find out who his own mentors are. Make sure he’s part of a respected community.

The key to a good mentor is to develop strong trust and communication. Criticism is difficult to swallow, but it’s a less bitter pill when it comes from someone you trust, someone who has insight and wisdom, someone who you believe is only out for your own good. Choose someone who understands you, and who knows your background and family history.

Above all, make sure the mentor is available. Because you can have the greatest mentor in the world, but if you can’t speak with him/her, what good is it?

If you can’t find the right person, make an “interim mentor” to bounce ideas off of and be accountable to. King Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived, yet he still had a mentor. Tradition says that as long as Solomon’s mentor was alive, he never made a mistake; once the mentor died, Solomon erred. Having an objective advisor is so crucial that even if you choose someone who is “less wise” than yourself, it’s still worth it.

Always be on the lookout and don’t give up until you find the right one.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Honor the Wise Person”
Way 10 of 48 Ways to Wisdom
Aish.com

Who is wise? One who learns from every man.

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

That doesn’t help.

OK, let’s look at this suggestion.

The idea is that, rather than expecting to learn what you need to learn about life, God, and everything by some sort of trial and error process, you should seek out one or more (ideally one) SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) in your fields of interest and consult them. More accurately, you should serve them in some capacity, observe them, listen to them, and learn from them.

That’s a short description of a discipleship process, but how many of us are in a position to dedicate a few decades (or more) to disciple under a Master of some sort?

(To get a better idea of what discipleship means in both Christianity and Judaism, see Jacob Fronczak’s excellent blog post, Discipleship in Christianity and Judaism, expanded edition.)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I very often refer to us, to Christians, as “disciples of the Master,” meaning disciples of Jesus. You’re right, I do. But we don’t actually have the opportunity to sit at our Master’s feet and absorb his wisdom as did the original Apostles nearly 2,000 years ago.

The discipleship model usually requires that the Master’s wisdom is passed from teacher to student across multiple generations. Students of a Master become teachers themselves and eventually gather disciples of their own, teaching them in their own Master’s name.

That didn’t happen in Christianity because of the break between the Gentiles and the Jewish mentors of old. Christianity, as we understand the term today, has experienced a distinct disconnect from the original method, style, and interpretation of the teachings of our Master. We certainly do not have an unbroken line of teachers extending from the present all the way back to the founder of our faith, to Jesus Christ.

So what do we do?

Rabbi Weinberg also said:

Human beings like independence. We hate to admit that we need others. Most people would rather learn from their own mistakes, than learn from others. We imagine we’ll just “figure it all out” as we go along. “I know I’m smart. I can work it out.”

It is an American value to be self-reliant (that is coming under question in the current political and social climate, but I digress), independent, and to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, so to speak. If we want to learn something, we buy a self-help book or take a class. I suppose the author or teacher could be considered a mentor, but not in the way Rabbi Weinstein suggests. A mentor is more than just a temporary teacher, he or she is a guide to life, a source of not only knowledge, but of wisdom, which I would take to mean the proper application of information and experience.

A Rabbi TeachingIt’s not really a bad idea, it is just a difficult model to find actually being practiced in the modern, western world.

In the world of the Chassidim for instance, it is probably a lot more common. A Jewish yeshiva student may consider the Rosh Yeshiva or one of the other Rabbis to be their mentor. However, a life of learning in that particular context is foreign to most of us, including the vast majority of Christians. Even if we wanted to find a mentor, where would we go and who would we seek out? I doubt most Christian Pastors would want such a role. Yes, they teach, but the teaching model is more akin to the modern school classroom and is limited in time, scope, and relationship. Teaching is time-limited, on a specific subject, and the students don’t achieve anything like the intimacy required in a mentorship or discipleship relationship.

On top of that, it’s been suggested recently that religious instruction doesn’t really change human beings.

“Religion,” novelist Mary McCarthy wrote, “is only good for good people.” Weigh the violence of the Inquisition against the humanity of Martin Luther King or homicidal fanatics against Oxfam, and you have to suspect that religion supplies a context for justifying or motivating moral choices rather than a reason for them.

-Philip Ball
“Morals don’t come from God”
Nature.com

If we are believe that statement, then a good person in a religion would have been just as good in either a different religion or no religion at all. That would mean religious teaching imparts the specific mechanics of the religion (doctrine, dogma, and such) but not the underlying moral fabric that induces fundamental human change.

Ball’s article continues:

Thousands of people — varying widely in social background, age, education, religious affiliation and ethnicity — have taken the tests. Pyysiäinen and Hauser say the results (mainly still in the publication pipeline) indicate that “moral intuitions operate independently of religious background”, although religion may influence responses in a few highly specific cases.

The authors’ paper may annoy both religious and atheistic zealots. By taking it as a given that religion is an evolved social behaviour rather than a matter of divine revelation, it tacitly adopts an atheistic framework. Yet at the same time it assumes that religiosity is a fundamental aspect of human psychology, thereby undermining those who see it as culturally imposed folly that can be erased with a cold shower of rationality.

Of course, this scientific investigation discounts any possibility that a supernatural influence could be involved, and so can hardly claim that “the leading of the Spirit” is, in any way, related to the moral behavior observed within any religion’s framework. People are good or not good, not because of what they’re taught, but because of who they are, perhaps because of an evolutionary imperative.

That would mean, by extension, that mentorship also would not be a significant factor in imparting moral change in disciples or students. So even if you find a mentor, it won’t really matter. You’ll learn a great deal about the “nuts and bolts” of your religion or philosophy, but that’s only information, not wisdom and not moral instruction and guidance.

Do you believe that?

As a person of faith, I can’t really go for it, but I certainly have to consider that it’s a possibility for a certain collection of people who only take their faith so far. We like to think that our faith makes us, not the other way around, but for some, entering a religious life is just a matter of confirming who they already are as people. In that case, they (we) don’t really want to learn anything, at least anything that would contradict their (our) already established basic moral understanding.

PrayingBut what if we really could find a true mentor, one who could take us beyond the perceptual world and into one where we are actually challenged on a fundamental level. At my age, finding a mentor is an increasingly diminishing probability, but for a much younger man or woman, it is at least still a possibility.

I know some of you Christians reading this will say that “the Lord is my mentor” or “I am guided by the Holy Spirit,” but chances are, those experiences aren’t the same as actually talking to another human being. You don’t really hear an audible voice outside of your head telling you specific information and providing concrete answers to discrete questions.

What if acquiring a mentor as Rabbi Weinberg defines the person (please read the entire article for all of the details) were indeed a possibility and even a likelihood? Let’s assume the person has to be alive today and reasonably accessible (I suppose email and instant messaging would do, but face-to-face meetings would be preferable). Who would you choose and why? I don’t mean as far as a temporarily set of interactions to learn a single topic, but an extended relationship to learn not knowledge, but wisdom, to learn about life from someone who has lived, to experience God through a true tzadik or saint.

Who would you go to? Where would you find this person? Is there anyone left who is so wise, honest, and honorable, and also who is accessible?

Losing My Faith in Religious People

Normally, I build my blog posts around one or two interesting or inspiring quotes I’ve found during my studies, but today there’s nothing that applies, or at least nothing that applies to how I feel. “Christian marketing” is fond of advertising “Christianity: It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s bunk. It’s a religion. That’s not a bad thing, but as I read recently (albeit from a non-Christian source), “…This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it’s black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy)…The phrase implies that there are two choices. It’s either religion, or a relationship.”

There’s nothing wrong with a religion. I’ve said many times before (and I will again in tomorrow’s morning meditation) that religion is the interface by which we learn to understand God. Religion is the structure in which we comprehend the specifics of our faith, including how to interpret the Bible, the nature of prayer, and any traditions (yes, Christianity has traditions) and rituals that help us to operationalize and express our faithfulness behaviorally. The problem is, I’m losing my faith in religion.

Actually, I’m losing my faith in the human beings who are involved in religion. Well, no, not all of them. I have very high regard for most of the people I communicate with (primarily over the Internet) in the world of faith, but others can be a royal pain. Maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, we all have our moods, and our needs, and our insecurities. Whenever you add religion or “righteousness” to that mix though, you usually get something that’s bent and twisted just a little bit (and occasionally by quite a bit).

What started this rant? I was “rebuked” on an online social venue earlier today. You see, I have this thing about “experts” or maybe I have “authority issues.” It’s not that I don’t recognize and submit to authority. I have a job and I have a boss and what he says goes. There are religious authorities I respect and consider very knowledgable and wise, and I defer to their judgment. I know they know a whole lot more than I do, and more than I will probably ever know.

My problem is with the sort of person who really wants and needs to be called by a title, and who is continually telling everyone, “I’m an authority!” The interesting thing is, the person really is an authority and I can certainly recognize that, but by always saying “call me by such-and-thus title,” and “I’m an expert,” and “don’t question my judgment,” I keep getting the impression that they’ve got something to prove beyond their education and experience (I wouldn’t really care except I really do respect and like this person…otherwise, I’d just ignore him). I know that some people are insecure but not always for personality reasons. Sometimes, the person’s field of study, or where they got their education isn’t considered “mainstream,” and they aren’t always given the respect that is their due. In such cases, I suppose they need to compel the world around them to give them what they deserve.

But it still rubs me the wrong way. I’ve known too many people, particularly in the world of religion, who adopted roles, and titles, and authority that they certainly did not earn by education, experience, or temperament. They just “needed” to be a big shot and by inference, they needed everyone around them to be “little shots,” if that makes any sort of sense. So when someone who is genuine comes along and really has earned what they have, and they aren’t given respect by everyone around them, they have two choices: blow it off, or push back.

It’s the pushing back that bothers me. It’s the pushing back that seems to say, “I need to be big, and to meet my needs, you need to be little.” It’s the pushing back in a religious world where even the Master we all follow valued humility above blatant honors. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t deserve honors and it’s not like he doesn’t receive them. Yet the first time he was here, he set them aside, even to the degree that he washed the feet of his disciples. Even to the degree that he died for an unworthy humanity, including me.

The authorities who I have respected the most didn’t need to tell me they were in charge. They didn’t need to tell me to respect their knowledge. Just by being who they were, I learned to respect them. They didn’t have to make it a command. It’s ironic that people who God has given great gifts and who use those gifts in His Name, can still push back and push away those of us who are just trying to keep our heads above water. If the pushing keeps up, I’m going to be pushed out, and down, and I’ll drown in a sea of someone else’s religious authority and personal requirements.

I’m losing my faith in religion. I’m losing my faith in some of the people in religion. God is good, and great, and pure, but what human emotion does to faith and religion is anything but. It takes a great deal of energy to be patient sometimes and you know how lousy I am at keeping my (virtual) mouth shut. So I need to be able to push back as well, or let myself be pushed out of the body of faith altogether. I’m already isolated enough without someone, even a well-deserving someone, saying, “you’re not good enough.” I guess that’s what I hear when someone says, “I’m an authority,” or “you should respect me,” or “call me such-and-thus and not my first name.”

But as annoying as people like this are at times, they aren’t the real problem. I am (I suppose it always comes back to that). People like this are everywhere and sometimes they just can’t be avoided. They are in the world of religion and if I want to learn from them, I can’t avoid them…or I avoid them and avoid learning the lessons they are very good at teaching (the intentional lessons…not the unintentional one I’m talking about). Here’s what I need to learn:

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

-Robert Frost, American poet

I suppose if I had learned that lesson well, I wouldn’t be writing this “extra meditation.” I suppose if the “authority” had learned that lesson well, the event that triggered my unfortunate little missive would never have occurred. It’s not the first time I’ve wanted to push back and it won’t be the last. Maybe someday, I’ll start listening to Mr. Frost (who has my respect and my attention) and learn the lesson he teaches so well. Then I will be able to listen to almost anything…and I’ll still be fine.

The Tefillin and the Shoemaker

Praying with TefillinAnd they (Korach and his following) converged upon Moses and Aaron and said to them: “Enough! Every one of the congregation is holy, and G-d is amongst them. Why do you raise yourself above the congregation of G-d?”Numbers 16:3

There are those who maintain that they have no need of a mentor to guide them through life. They claim, as did Korach, that each and every individual can forge his relationship with G-d unaided. They argue that since the Jewish faith rejects the concept of an intermediary between man and G-d, they have no use for a rebbe or master.

They fail to understand that the entire Jewish people are a single entity, that every individual soul is, in truth, but a limb or organ of the soul of Israel. Just as each limb and organ of the human body has its function at which it excels, so, too, every soul has its role and mission, as well as its limitations. The ‘loftiest’ of souls is dependent upon the ‘lowliest’ for the attainment of the single, unified goal. And were any limb to strike out on its own, detaching itself from the ‘head’ which provides the entire body with vitality and direction – the results are self-understood.

Said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch: “When an individual adapts the attitude that he can do it all on his own, he reminds me of the story told about the peasant and the tefillin. Once, a Jew noticed a pair of tefillin in the house of a gentile peasant. Upon seeing a holy object in such a place he began to inquire about the tefillin, wishing to purchase them from the goy. The peasant, who had looted the tefillin in a recent pogrom, grew agitated and defensive. “What do you mean, where did I get them?” he blurted out. “Why, I made them myself! I myself am a shoemaker!”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Once Upon a Chasid
“Jack of all Trades”
Chabad.org commentary on Torah Portion Korach

Paul explained that he received the gospel through a revelation of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). He claimed that the gospel message he preached to the Galatians was not man’s gospel. It was not the normal gospel message. He received a different gospel. This is an important point – a critical point – for understanding Paul. The message of the gospel that Paul proclaimed was not precisely the same message of the gospel that the rest of the apostolic community proclaimed. In other places, Paul specifically refers to this unique gospel as “my gospel” (see Romans 2:15-16, Romans 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8-9).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
“Sermon Three: Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 1:11-24)”
pp 35-6

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!Galatians 1:8 (NASB)

Reading Rabbi Tauber’s commentary on the previous week’s Torah Portion Korach, I saw an inevitable collision with the above-quoted portion of Lancaster’s “Galatians” book. Although Korach and his co-conspirators claimed authority because all of Israel was holy to God, while Paul claimed authority based on his personal revelation from Jesus (see Acts 9:1-19 and Acts 26:15-18), they both set themselves (apparently) in opposition to the established authority representing God, Moses in the case of Korach, and the Jerusalem Council, in the case of Paul.

We know that Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 who were with them came to a bad end (Numbers 16:28-35) and their story is sometimes told in congregations as a cautionary tale not to go against the established leadership, but what about Paul? Does Paul’s receiving a personal revelation and mission from Jesus exempt him from respecting and obeying properly established authority? Lancaster says, “no”:

Despite the dismissive air, Paul submitted to their authority. He had already conceded that, if they had rejected his gospel of Gentile inclusion, he would have been running his race in vain. They had the power to utterly discredit the gospel message he had been presenting. Therefore, he certainly did respect their authority. But he seems less than reverently respectful in Galatians 2:5.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
“Sermon Seven: Remember the Pour (Galatians 2:6-10)”
pg 71

While Paul could be opinionated and “outspoken”, he nevertheless realized that he was a man under not only the Master’s authority, but under the authorities established by God in Jerusalem, which included James, Peter, and John. But he had to approach these “pillars”, present his position based on the Master’s revelation to him, and hope they’d see things his way. Fortunately for Paul (and the Gentiles), they did. Otherwise Christianity, as we understand it, probably wouldn’t exist today. In that case, any person not born a Jew who wanted to enter into a full covenant relationship with God would have to convert to Judaism (for the sake of this blog, I will define Gentile Noahides -in contrast to Christians – as meriting a place in the world to come but not enjoying a full covenant relationship with God on par with the Jews).

The example of Paul presents a problem, though. His experience was entirely subjective. No one else saw or heard the details of his visions and so no one could verify independently, that he was telling the truth. In theory, he could have made the whole thing up in order to further some personal agenda he had in relation to Gentiles becoming “Messianic” disciples. If we accept the Biblical record on faith as well as reason, we accept that his visions were real and his authority was real.

But what about “authorities” today?

Most mainstream churches and synagogues are lead by a Pastor or Rabbi (respectively) who has received the education required to be ordained by their branch of faith and they have been appointed to a specific congregation upon the approval of that congregation’s board of directors. The board, and its various committees, have the authority to set the specific duties of the clergy, approve and renew their contractual relationship, and even fire the clergyperson if necessary. While the Pastor or Rabbi is the “face” and “voice” of the congregation in many ways, he or she can hardly act with total autonomy or impunity and are held accountable to the standards and authority of the congregation and their overseeing denomination or sect.

Sadly, not all religious groups and leaders operate on this principle. Paul’s “example” of receiving a personal revelation can be and has been terribly misused and misappropriated by many so-called “leaders” and “prophets” to set themselves up as the sole and individual authority over their congregations. If anyone complains about the “leader” and his or her lack of accountability to others, Paul’s example is cited and then the dissenters are accused of being like Korach and his band (implying that the dissenters will suffer a similar fate if they don’t withdraw their objections).

I know such a ploy may sound improbable and even silly to some of you reading this blog post, but the power of cult leaders over large groups of “believers” can be formidable to those who have made a commitment and who believe their “leader” is the “real meal deal”; the one and only person anointed by God to spread a special “message” to the “remnant” of the faithful.

I’m sure you are thinking about some of the infamous and extreme examples of what I’m describing, such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite, but there are probably thousands of other religious groups out there that operate below our radar, so to speak. Certainly a number of groups loosely affiliated with the Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement, function under the sole authority of the “Rabbi” in charge, acknowledging only his (in the vast majority of these cases, the leader is male) “right” to make decisions and pronouncements for the congregation, based on the leader’s self-described “anointing” from God.

(I want to make it clear at this point, that there are many MJ congregations that do operate on a board of directors model and that do receive authority from a central, overseeing organization which does provide a series of checks and balances for congregational leadership – I’m not painting “Messianic Judaism” as such with a single, broad brush – however, because “the movement” is largely unregulated, some people -usually not Jewish- just put on a kippah and a tallit, declare themselves a “Messianic Rabbi”, and proceed to gather a “flock”. Then they go about sharpening whatever theological ax they have to grind, which much of the time, has only a faint resemblance to anything Jewish).

Everything I’ve said up to this point certainly could make you doubtful or concerned if you find yourself in a “one-man show” type of congregation or even one where you might suspect (correctly or not) that the the congregation’s board is pretty much “rubber-stamping” the clergy’s decisions. On the other hand, we are taught to respect authority:

Rabbi Ishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired, and receive every man with joy. -Pirkei Avot 3:12

It’s confusing. However, anyone, leader or otherwise, should recall this:

Rabbi Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. -Pirkei Avot 3:1

There is a Heavenly authority who holds us all accountable for what we say and do. Examples like Paul’s vision are extremely rare. They were extremely rare in Paul’s day and perhaps they may not even occur in the common era. Judaism has a long tradition of centralized authority but generally, that authority is not held by a single individual. The great sages often disagreed and it was through those debates and dialogues that justice and mercy was distilled throughout the centuries and applied to the devout in response to the unique needs of their communities and the time in which they lived.

Some respond to religious leadership concerns by refusing to affiliate with any faith group, but we all come under some sort of authority, including our employers, and local and national governments. Meeting with our congregations is how we prevent ourselves from entering into individual error (though I’m hardly one to talk at this point):

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from the slaughter of the dead, as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent.” But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: `This is the table that is before G-d.’ ”

Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachina’i would say: One who stays awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life. -Pirkei Avot 3:3-4

We are charged to test the validity of a leader as the Bereans tested the validity of Paul’s teachings (see Acts 17:10-12). We also know that valid and righteous leaders are established by God for the good of the world:

It was for this reason that actual peace in the world was brought about through Aharon, who descended to all creatures and elevated them to Torah.

-From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, pp. 103-107

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. –Psalm 29:11

Faith and history have established the relative authority of Korach and Paul and God’s justice and mercy was enacted in both lives in accordance with the actions of these men. Our lives are the same. We serve the same God. We all benefit from His providence. We are all accountable to His justice and we all rely on His mercy. We should not take the Name of God or His authority lightly. In the end, God prevails:

If you play for your own glory and not God’s you have no place here. -a Maggid

Rabbi Akivah would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, `”For in the image of G-d, He made man.” -Pirkei Avot 3:14

A man’s soul is the light of God. –Proverbs 20:27