Friday, November 16, 2007

Which Would You Choose?

Last shabbos I attended an NCSY regional convention, where, among other things, I played a game called “Would You Rather?” This game, an indecisive person’s ultimate nightmare, presents you with two scenarios (usually, both awful) and then forces you to choose which one you’d prefer.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me a question which put me in a similar position. I gave my own answer, but I’d be interested to hear some other perspectives. The situation is this:

If you had the choice between being mekareiv 10,000 people who will then be “frum” to a normal halachic standard, or being mekareiv one person who will go on to become the gadol hador—which would you choose?

29 comments:

Ezzie said...

Interesting question, and my first thought was "obviously the 10,000", but primarily because I don't know that nowadays any godol could inspire another 10,000. On second thought I questioned that, particularly when one accounts for all the people those people inspire... but then I thought 'how much more inspiring are the little things 10,000 regular people do than one great one?' So I'm going with that.

Erachet said...

I think I agree with Ezzie on this one. I think it's better to bring 10,000 people closer to God than it is to work on just one person becoming amazing. There's no guarantee what that one person will do with his Gadol Hador-ness and I think there are sooooo many laymen who don't really have anything to do with the Gadol Hador and may not be effected by it. But to influence 10,000 people? That's huge.

Northern Light said...

Yes, bringing 10,000 neshamas to Hashem is definitely better than bringing only ONE neshama. Who says Hashem values a gadol's neshama any more than a regular Jew's, if they both are observing His mitzvot?
But my first thought was...that's a really stupid thing to be spending time and brain cells on...

SJ said...

Interesting...Ezzie and Erachet, you both answered based on consideration of how many people the gadol hador will inspire...in other words, both of you evaluated it purely from a kiruv point of view. What about the gadol hador's contribution to Torah learning and understanding? The situation assumes that the gadol hador will BE a gadol hador (think Rav Moshe Feinstein, for example--though he wasn't a ba'al teshuva...so maybe a modern day Rabbi Akiva). Does this new angle affect your analysis at all?

Ezzie said...

I actually did factor that in... I wasn't saying from a kiruv point of view per se; just that they inspire others to change/improve, etc.

I think 10,000 regular people would inspire people to change and improve far more than one could; and I don't think we consider a gadol's contribution to Torah greater than a layman who struggles. And who knows, the 10,000 could inspire many gedolim of the future...

Madd Hatter said...

The 10,000 because of all the kids and grandkids who would have a much greater probability of being religious.

jackie said...

Ten thousand would be a significant percentage of the Orthodox world. Chances are really good that they'd have children who could be gedolim, even if none of them are themselves.

G said...

Define Gadol Hador

SJ said...

Gadol Hador - [GA-dol ha-DOR]; noun; lit. "Great one of the generation; one who is looked up to by the Jewish community as a whole as a great leader of the generation as a result of his accomplishments in the areas of Torah learning and living; EX: Rav Moshe Feinstein was a gadol hador.

Does that answer the question?

G said...

"Torah learning and living"

Using the above definition, I would be mekareiv the individual as apposed to the group.

SJ said...

G - I'm so glad to have found someone who takes the other approach--this discussion so far has been too one-sided for my taste. But pray, enlighten us as to your reasoning!

Erachet said...

I will also now argue the other side. A gadol hador has the ability to contribute to Torah in a way that 10,000 laymen, albeit frum ones, do not. He is a leader in a generation that so needs its leaders - every single one it can get. The Jewish people as a whole seem so lost in this era that the more leaders we have, the better off we are, I think.

jackie said...

Your definition of Gadol Hador makes one wonder if any still exist.... ;-(

Josh M. said...

I recall hearing that this question of quality vs. quantity is an underlying theme of the machlokos Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai - to wit, Beis Shammai felt that the halacha should follow them because they were sharper than the talmidei Beis Hillel, while Beis Hillel felt that it should follow them because they were the majority.

R' SY Zevin observes in L'Or HaHalacha that the shitos of BSh and BH throughout Shas reflect a basic machlokes over potential vs. actual, which is probably related.

bad4shidduchim said...

10,000 for sure. I'm extrapolating from the klal that it's better to give $1 to 100 people than $100 to one.

Besides, that's 10,000 lives versus one. But consider that the 10,000 wouldn't otherwise be frum, I think it's more important for them to become observant than for one person to become great.

AT PEACE said...

That's an interesting question? Have you come up with a final conclusion?

the apple said...

SJ, what's your opinion?

SJ said...

I see both sides of the issue. My first instinct was to say the 10,000, for the reasons that others mentioned, and also in light of the sources regarding choosing one life over another. The gemara in Yoma discusses the fact that we cannot evaluate whose "blood is redder"--in other words, we cannot assign values to people's lives; it is not our place to determine who is worthier. Based on this idea, I thought, who are we to choose a single gadol over 10,000 people?! How can we say that his life is worth more than the lives of these 10,000?

However, on further reflection (and after hearing someone persistently argue the opposite) I understand the other side, too. After all, the question we are discussing does not involve physical life (as the gemara does) but spiritual life. In this area it is even more difficult to assign values, so it makes sense instead to look at the effect that both sides would have on the Jewish community as a whole—and I do hear the argument that a real gadol (of the type that unfortunately, as Jackie points out, seems not to exist today) would do more for the Jewish people than 10,000 frum laymen.

My interlocutor posed another interesting question: how do you think R' Moshe himself would answer this question?

Ezzie said...

He'd take the 10k, I think. He didn't think being a 'gadol' was necessarily all that special; merely that he gave people answers to Q's, they respected them, so they sent more people to ask Q's, etc. Presumably, he felt that anyone could have this impact by being honest, respectful, and thinking a little bit.

G said...

"But pray, enlighten us as to your reasoning!"
-----------

"Your definition of Gadol Hador makes one wonder if any still exist"...that about sums it up.

G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

i think that's a really silly question-you are never going to get that choice, you just have to do the best to mekarev each person that you are able to...........

M.R. said...

A thought, because you specifically brought up Rebbe Akiva. In many ways, he really deserves the title "transmitter of torah shebaal peh (oral tradition)". Without Rebbe Akiva, it is very difficult to see how the Torah would have been passed down intact. Thus, SJ, I say that your question a dangerous one in which to dabble: who are we to assign value to physical lives, much less spiritual lives? And who are we to lightly lay aside the possibility that there may be junctures in history when it's one gadol that we must have to carry the torah through?
Dabble not!

SJ said...

anonymous and m.r. - the question is a theoretical. Obviously, it is not a choice I am ever going to have, and obviously I don't presume to have a "correct" answer, but I do think it worthwhile to ponder interesting philosophical topics, hopefully stimulating discussion and insight. That's all.

interlocutor said...

The theoretical nature of the question shouldn't undermine the value of each person's answer on a practical level. Perhaps none of us will ever be faced with this specific decision but, on a much smaller scale, it is important to have a pragmatic view of the gadol's role in our lives. Personally, I think that the answer is obvious: even though it is a significant sacrifice, I equate the question to a question of the heart versus the limbs. The gadol is the heart of Judaism. Without Moshe, there is no Torah, no matter how many Jews stand around Sinai. 10000 Americans or a President? 10000 actors or a Shakespeare? 10000 high school physics students or an Einstein? And, in truth, I would have a much harder time deciding about any of those three questions than about the one discussed here. To me, the greater question is: when and how did we lose sight of the gadol's significance in our lives? Does that answer why we haven't produced a true gadol in this generation?

SJ said...

interlocutor - I don't think that giving the opposite response means that a person has lost sight of the gadol's significance in our lives, rather it may merely be a reflection of the value that he/she places on kiruv. Try flipping it around and thinking about it from the other side.

That said, you make a very persuasive argument, as usual.

MordyS said...

First of all, I personally resent that frum yiddin would sit here and say there are no gedolim of our generation. Open to any page in this book: http://www.feldheim.com/cgi-bin/category.cgi?item=9-781583-309315&type=store and then decide whether gedolei yisrael still exist. Who here is going to question the stories in that book, some of which I experienced first hand, and one even actually written about me? Who would say they aren't true and just a bunch of fluff? Rather, not only are they inspirational, but also have the power to effect even more than 10,000 Jews! That's in fact the reason why my Rebbi published all those pictures and wrote up stories for them, because he wanted to show people how there are many Gedolei Yisrael still among us who have the power to carry our nation. There's an entire sefer called Derech Sicha written by one of R' Chaim Kanievsky's talmidim all about his life and random experiences, all little views into his daily happenings that show us the amazing way a gadol lives. Maybe it's harder for others who haven't experienced what I have to really understand the power of gedolim, but all yiddin everywhere must at least be aware of the saints in our midst. I mean, there are some men who wait in a huge crowd of people to get a bracha from R' Chaim, and when they finally get in, he gives them a bracha that's one word- "Hatzlacha" and they walk out all disappointed, like, aww man, that's what I waited in line for?! a half a second one word bracha? Yah, if only you knew that R' Chaim finishes Kol HaTorah Kula a year, hmmm, maybe you'd understand why he doesn't have time to listen to your whole story. People just don't know that this is a man who's every minute of every day is calculated in which words of Torah he's going to study, so much so, in that on a leap year, since there's an extra month, what does he do? He writes a sefer during that extra month!
Second of all-
interlocutor, and others are correct in their assumption that many don't feel a gadol has a significant role in their lives these days. However, like I said, maybe it's easier since I've had so many personal experiences with gedolim. But anyone can read an issue of Mishpacha magazine and read about amazing stories of gedolim. I know people who aren't frum who've seen stories in Mishpacha and enjoyed them and found them very inspirational. Maybe these days we just have to seek out the gedolim more in order to be able to be inspired by them and realize the effect they have on yiddin and how precious they are. And even that's not so different than Gerrer chassidim back in Europe who would have take a long train ride through the country just to see the Rebbe maybe once a year if they were lucky.
So on top of all that, I think it's obvious that I would choose to have the Godol Hador.
But I don't think I even needed to give that long shmooze. All I had to say was that it's completely clear and obvious to me that one should choose the Godol Hador. If I choose the 10,000 souls, I only have 10,000 souls. If I choose the Gadol Hador, I have the Gadol Hador and the 10,000 souls he'll inspire.

G said...

"Who would say they aren't true and just a bunch of fluff?"

Those are not necessarily two separate things. A story can be both at the same time.

"I personally resent that frum yiddin would sit here and say there are no gedolim of our generation"

Resent it all you want, it does not change reality. Take a look at the cover of that book you linked to. Some of those individulas are no longer alive, some are very advanced in age and the rest are the aging gedolim of the previous generation (they should all live and be well). The fears/doubts you read are that there are not/will not be people to take up the torch who measure up to the true definition of a Gadol/Manhig Yisroel.

--hagiographic books and stories don't do a whole lot for me.

Ezzie said...

Agree with G, Mordy. Look at your example of the people waiting in line for the bracha, and coming out disappointed. At the same time, they'll experience a story with some cabbie driving around in Israel who suddenly switches from discussing who knows what to some intense discussion about God and Judaism - that's often a lot more inspiring. Which is more inspiring? It's very hard to argue that there is a gadol today who truly effects so many. Has the book you referred to really inspired so many? Has it inspired them more than the Only In Israel books? I don't know, but I can't imagine it's 10,000fold.

Interlocutor - Interesting comments, and they made me think:

Without Moshe, there is no Torah, no matter how many Jews stand around Sinai.

I don't know that that's true.

10000 Americans or a President? 10000 actors or a Shakespeare? 10000 high school physics students or an Einstein?

This was the most interesting part for me. The last one - easily Einstein. The middle one - a little tougher; what *is* acting, after all? The first one - depends on the President, doesn't it? Actually, it really depends on the situation, and whether it's before it happens or after it already exists - will the death of the President truly negatively impact the country in the long-term, or simply cause a few rough spots.

To me, the greater question is: when and how did we lose sight of the gadol's significance in our lives? Does that answer why we haven't produced a true gadol in this generation?

Actually, I think the second question answers the first. The lack of a true gadol in our generation makes us question their value. We really need someone who can unite the fractures that exist... but it feels as if anyone who seems to be able to is marginalized before anyone knows they exist. It's why in this time the ability to have 10,000 more frum people who can in turn inspire and help others feels so much more important and worthy.