Further to my recent post on the differences in approaches to debate between Chareidism and Modern Orthodoxy, I came across an analogy that might explain the way each group approaches its rabbinic leadership. As some of the commenters noted, the concept of yirah is very much overplayed in the Chareidi community. On the other hand, a lack of yirah for rabbinic authority seems to almost be a chiyuv amonst the Modern Orthodox. Is there a happy medium?
The analogy is one of golf. I'll assume that most of my readers (all twelve of you) have heard of Tiger Woods. Now, stay with me on this one. Tiger Woods is the "gadol" in question. Beneath him are many kinds of golfers. There are other top level professional, mid-level professionals and amateurs at various levels of skill and experience. But there is only one Tiger Woods.
How does the Modern Orthodox golfer approach Tiger Woods? If I understand that group and its aversion to unconditional yirah correctly, then the MO golfer sees Tiger Woods as just another golfer. Yeah, he's got a great set of skills but the MO golfer believes that if he just practises enough, he too can become just as good as Woods. That's why Woods is so great, after all. All he does all day is play golf while the MO golfer has an actual day job and can only golf in his free time. What's more, the MO golfer has played some of the courses that Woods has played in the past and, on very rare occasions, done better on a particular hole than Woods did in his last PGA event there. So not only is he a golfer like Woods, but on very rare occasions he's just as good if not better than Woods. So while he can admire Woods' accomplishments, he does have any actual awe for him.
The Chareidi golfer approaches Woods in a totally different manner. For him, there is something special about Woods. It's not because he has been practising and playing golf since he was two years old that makes him so good. There's something special, something chosen about him. Yes, he swings the same type of club as Woods but his poor results clearly show there is something different about Woods. He's simply not in Tiger's league. Tiger is perfect. Even if he has a seeminly bad tournament, the Chareidi golfer knows that it really wasn't a bad tourney, it just appears that way to him because he's so far below Woods' level. Even when Woods shot that ball into the sand trap, it wasn't a bad shot. Woods meant to do it for some purpose far beyond the Chareidi's intellectual and spiritual grasp. After all, the Chareidi golfer knows that his ball moves because he hits it with the club but that's not how Tiger plays. Tiger moves his ball with the shem hameforash or ruach hakodesh and it only appears that the ball moves swings his club. But he doesn't actually have to physically hit the ball, that's how far above the rest of us he is.
Somewhere in the middle, there is the middle ground. The Navon golfer knows that Tiger's success is a combination of both gift and skill. Yes, Tiger has been playing golf since he was weaned but lots of other men and women have been too and they haven't achieved what he has. He has that little extra bit, that innate talent that combines with his drive and practice to create the Tiger Woods experience. So I cannot simply say "Yeah, all I needed to do was practice like him and I'd been winning tournaments just like him". I don't have the gift! Others might have the gift but not the interest. They cannot simply sit around and assume that one day they'll just walk onto the green and let fly with the ball. They haven't practised. But this combination of gift and skill make him a special person who stands heads and shoulders above the other competitors in his field.
Now take a look at the real rabbinic leaders of our day. I don't care if it's Rav Eliashiv, shlita, or Rav Aviner, shlita, or Rav Schechter, shilta. These men are not the talmidei chachamim they are merely because of the time they've spent in the beis medrash. They are also gifted individuals who have used their intellectual and spiritual strengths to bring their intellectual gains to that next level. They are worthy of yirah in a sense of admiration, the one reserved for a person who was capable of great things and actually achieved them. Perhaps it is this for of yirah that MO should try to strive for in its relationship with its leaders, one based on an appreciation of the subject material (Torah) and the dedication of the Rav who has sought to excel in it for the sake of his Maker.