There might be valid reasons why there is today such distrust of rabbinic authorities. Not everyone in a black hat knows what they’re talking about. True Gadolim (Great Ones, Spiritual Masters) are few and far between. In our current culture wars, too many people want to present their limited vision as TRUTH. I fear that they repel many more Jews than they inspire.
But when you meet a true Gadol, or even just read his words written two hundred fifty or more years ago, you sense greatness.
This past Shabbat I was reading Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twerski of Chernobyl (1730 – 1797) in his famous book, Meor Eynayim, The Light of the Eyes, on the parsha (weekly Torah reading) V’Eyra (Sh’mot 6:1 – 9:35). After reminding us that the true exile we experienced in Egypt was that our דעת, Dat, knowledge (specifically, our interactive, intimate knowledge/experience of God, The Infinite), was hidden from us, lost behind the overwhelming culture of materialism and sensual hedonism (not to mention our exhaustion and depression as slaves), he talks about living instead with an awareness of the transcendent and immanent reality of The One. He describes the impossibility, dooming us to, at best, an incomplete experience of the Infinite through our finite being, but he also describes the experience of letting go as much as possible, of opening oneself to the greatest possible experience of this ecstatic but, paradoxically, impossible experience.
In the middle of my study, I realized that he was not talking empty theory or pious clichés. Rather, he was describing his own personal experience. In doing so, he reminds us that we, too, can achieve these spiritual heights. He then, in greater detail than this essay allows, instructs us on an approach (a meditational focus when reciting the verse שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, Shema Yisrael Adonay Eloheinu Adonay Echad, Listen, Israel, the in-dwelling, animating experience of God, the surrounding, transcendent, defining nature of God, the in-dwelling, animating, unique-to-each-individual experience of God, it’s all One) to do just that!
A true Gadol, a Tzakid (צדיק), saintly teacher, has no interest in coercing or shaming us to regiment our behavior, but, rather, lovingly reaches out with the fruit of his own experience, to encourage each of us to reach as far as we may. He assures us that if it was possible for him to have at least a touch of this experience of a finite being containing the infinite, so can we.