Elisha, Gehazi and Lessons for the Leaders of Men
June 26, 2012
[This article was written in response to the article by Rabbi Avi Shafran, chief spokesman of Agudath Israel of America, titled “Korach@blogspot.com”, originally published by Ami Magazine and Cross Currents]
Dear Rabbi Shafran,
When I read your article, something visceral tugged at my heartstrings. Taking Korach, one of the more memorable boogeymen of the Chumash and comparing his congregation to that of the modern day Jewish blogosphere brought back my early elementary school memories of the Parsha, when Moshe Rabbeinu with Hashem’s help won once again while the evil Korach got swallowed up. However, I do strongly feel that you both have misinterpreted the intent of the Jewish bloggers as well as failed to properly analyze the larger blogging and social media movement, while using Korach as a parable to appeal to our childhood memories. Keeping with the motif of boogiemen, I would like to bring out another, perhaps less famous one out of the shadows - Gehazi, the not-so-faithful servant of Elisha haNavi.
While we are familiar with the scenes of the weekly Parsha including memorable characters like Korach, Nach tends to be less studied and less familiar. Thus many of us may not be familiar with Elisha, a close student of Eliyahu haNavi, and a major Navi in his own right. Even less of us are familiar with Elisha’s close student, Gehazi, who was perhaps destined, just like Elisha, to become a major Navi but instead became a footnote of history. Luckily, all three make multiple appearances in several Haftarahs including Parshas Vayeira, Parshas Tazria, Parshas Metzorah and Parshas Pinchas. Rounding out the characters, there is also a wealth of Midrashim, Gemarahs and other sources about Eliyahu, Elisha, Gehazi and his sons.
Now as we know, Eliyahu was a Gadol with a capital “G” He brought the fire down at Mt. Carmel, fought the false prophets of Baal, convinced the people to serve Hashem and was at odds with the kings of the time. Yet we also find him running in front of King Ahab even though the latter was a major Rasha. As the commentaries tell us he did it for Kavod haMalchus - honoring the monarchy. His faithful student and servant, Elisha, was no less and perhaps even double that of his master. He healed the sick, helped the poor, prayed for the barren to have children, and even resurrected the dead. His servant and student, Gehazi, was to take the place of his master with his own children, just like Korach’s, perhaps one day carrying the mantle of leadership. Yet that was not to be.
You think Korach is bad? At least the Mishah and Gemarah (Sandhedrin 108a, 109b-110a) discuss the possibility of Korach and his congregation getting their share in the World to Come. Gehazi was much worse - he gets no share in the Next World (Sanhedrin 107b). But the magic question is why? Why is Gehazi judged to have been so much worse than Korach?
As you have written, Korach’s argument to the masses was that leaders are not needed, since the entire congregation is inherently holy. Thus, we can lead ourselves. Secretly, Korach was hoping to replace the existing leadership with the one he picked. Gehazi’s crimes were of a different variety - he was intermediary between the leader, Elisha, and the masses. In other words, if Elisha was the Gadol of the time, Gehazi was his Askan. His crime was making things up in the name of the Gadol in order to make money, thus causing a Chillul Hashem and leading the multitudes astray. Another reason the Gemarah mentions (Sanhedrin 107b) is that he drove students away from talking to Elisha directly. So if Korach’s argument was that leadership is not needed, Gehazi’s was the opposite - leadership is needed, but it needs to be isolated and channeled through select individuals, who can use their place in the chain to gain monetary benefits. This is well summed up in a famous saying of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l: “The Gedolim today are not on the same level as Elisha, but many have a Gehazi, and often more than one” This is where you and I must part ways.
You believe that the Jewish bloggers of today are talking with the message of Korach and want to simply do away with the Gedoim, Daas Torah, etc. However, I, along with many others, see something very different. What we see is askanim who are talking to us with the message of Gehazi - let’s isolate and carefully channel the Gedolim, while making money at it. We also see many instances of various scandals where monetary benefits are being derived by so called “askanim” just like Gehazi. It is not against the Gedolim that the Jewish bloggers and others are rebelling, but against the askanim. The masses are earning for true leadership, without intermediaries, and they see the tools that can make that happen. And it seems that the Gedolim are listening as evidenced by the recent Internet Asifa where according to many reports a certain Gadol spoke by phone from Eretz Yisroel specifically so his words cannot be changed.
I also want to point out that blogging and social media are new tools. In many ways the society as whole is still adjusting to them, and so is the Jewish community. The Jewish bloggers and tweeters of today are akin to children to have recently learned how to talk. They are still learning the ropes. But the essential message is that regular people now have the tools to communicate one on one, and one to many - something that has never happened before. They are still learning how to use them.
Just like the masses can use these new tools to communicate, so can our leadership. For example, in Stanford University, there are professors that are currently teaching classes of over 100,000 students over the Internet. Our Gedolim, our teachers and our rabbeim could do the same - bypassing many of the askanim and other intermediaries, and start talking directly to the masses, whether by audio, video or other means.
In closing, just like I hope that your comparison of Jewish bloggers with Korach is wrong, I also hope that ultimately my comparison of askanim with Gehazi is wrong too. Of course, history and time will ultimately tell us who was right.
Search for more information about Gehazi? at4torah.com