By: Sholom Kesselman
Respect is an integral ingredient in the success of any institution or community. Without it there can be no harmony, direction or leadership. If students do not respect teachers and laymen do not respect Rabbonim, the institution or community will quickly devolve into a chaotic splintered mess.
“Respect” has a complicated history and place in the Chabad community. Chassidus is largely about Bittul and our legendary Chassidim excelled in this regard. It is unheard of for a Chossid to demand “Kovod” and any Chossid of note would be uncomfortable with being given too much respect.
The culture among Chassidim has always been one of brotherhood and closeness and even great Chassidim were referred to by their first names only. After all we are all “children” of the Rebbe and in his eyes – all are indeed equal.
Additionally, the Rebbe ingrained in us a positive “Chutzpa.” Going out on Mivtzoim requires a certain boldness and we train our young to not feel shy or intimidated by anyone no matter how “important” they seem.
All of this can be positive, beautiful and true, yet there is always the danger that these attitudes and cultures can be corrupted and misused.
If a Rov of a community is not given due respect and can be easily ignored, that is a problem.
If a Mashpia can be interrupted or disrespectfully “called out” by a Bochur or Yungerman in middle of a Farbrengen, that is a problem.
If our schools and children have a reputation for not being respectful to their teachers and adults, that is indeed a problem.
If a Rosh Yeshiva can be disrespectfully challenged in middle of a Shiur, that is indeed a problem.
If a Beis Din can be easily ignored and disregarded, that is indeed a major problem.
It is my contention that we, as a community, suffer from an inherent lack of respect for our Rabonim, Mashpiim and leaders and it may be time for a communal Cheshbon Hanefesh regarding where we stand on this important matter.
Context plays a huge role in everything and here too it is possible that times have changed.
In days bygone perhaps respect was a given. The community intuitively understood the need for respect and it served as the foundation for communal life. In such an environment the brotherhood and closeness of Chassidim was not only okay, it was beautiful. It was fine to “let the guard down” by a Farbrengen because “respect” was naturally in place and referring to Mashpiim by their first names, only served to enhance the relationship between mentor and student.
But now the context has changed. Respect is no longer a given and we lack the fundamental principles of Derech Eretz and Kovod Harabonim. In such a climate perhaps it is time to rethink the place of “respect” and change the way we talk and behave towards our Rabonim and Mashpiim.
We would be doing our communities and our children a huge service if we placed more emphasis on Derech Eretz and respect, and started holding our leaders in the high esteem they deserve to be held.
We should not tolerate any kind of disrespect, not even in the name of Chassidishkeit.
A Rov, Mashpia, teacher, Beis Din or any body of authority / leadership, must be held in the highest regard and respectfully listened to.
“Chutzpa” has its place when on Mivtziom and on the street, but it doesn’t belong in the Shul, beis Midrash, school or in our home.
Perhaps it is time for a culture of Derech Eretz to prevail (once again) in our community.