Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Friday, July 30, 2004

Defining Gadlus

Before I get started, I just want to clarify how this article differs from the one I wrote a few days ago. After all, I know many of you are thinking, "why is Kaplan rehashing an issue he just dealt with a few days ago?" To clarify, Tuesday's piece focused upon who's included under the umbrella of gadlus, Torah scholars only or others too.

In today's piece, I will try to go a step deeper and attempt to define the term "gadol," or at least how various groups seem to use it.

In Tuesday's piece, I mentioned how someone who uses all of their potential is a greater person than someone who lives up to just 80%. Yet this is not used as a barometer for gadlus by anyone.

For example, take your classic "tehillim-zugger." A guy who's clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, but who uses whatever capabilities he has to serve God. Definitely a good Jew, no question about it. But a gadol? I don't think anyone would say that.

Besides, none of us can really judge how much potential one is using in their service to God. Can we look at a Torah scholar and truly say "he can do better" or "he's giving it all he's got"? We can't judge. Therefore, you simply can't determine gadlus on this basis.

Now, many people would say that any great Torah scholar is considered a Gadol. This is probably true. But I think there's more to it.

A gadol has certain leadership qualities and generally has a large sphere of influence. That's why many gedolim have positions as roshei yeshiva or rebbes. And even those who don't, such as R' Chaim Kanievski SHLITA and the like, are leaders inthe sense that their psak is taken very seriously, to the point that their opinions are asked when any major shailah comes up.

Basically, it seems like some level of involvement with the public is a prerequisite for gadlus.

I guess along the lines of the age-old question, "if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around, does it make a sound?" a similar question is, "if there is a great Torah scholar and nobody knows about him, is he a gadol?"

And on to R' Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's definition: I would say his definition is that anyone who's a shomer torah u'mitzvos and makes a great contribution (and not necessarily a scholarly one) to the Jewish world is a gadol.

One "nafka minah" between his definiton and the first definition is the psychologist he talked about. Others that come to mind include R' Moshe Sherer and Sarah Schneirer ZT"L. They clearly were great people and contributed tremendously to society, but they weren't the preeminent Torah scholars of their day. But according to Rabbi Weinreb, their contributions to society alone would earn them the title of "gadol" (and "gedolah").


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