Commentor Yishai left this insightful comment on our post For His Fellow Jew…
Just because someone is called a gadol doesn't mean they're a gadol. In Rebbe Nachman's work it is a given that it can be a struggle to identify the true tzaddikim of each generation, and every person should pray that they find and correctly identify who these true tzaddikim are, so that they can learn from them.
He also discusses the problem of unworthy leaders. I find some of these passages very powerful and potentially relevant to today, from Likutei Eitzot:
"Today publicity and fame go to false figures...There are false leaders, and when people follow their guidance they absorb false ideologies and mistaken beliefs."
"There are people who impose themselves as leaders and rulers over our poor, bereft nation not because they have been appointed by Heaven but purely through their own arrogance and assertiveness.... They can attain so much power that they can even exact penalties from those who do not wish to bow to their rule. But the correct phrase for this is not `exacting penalties' but `causing damage,' because ultimately they are a destructive force in the
"There are leaders who go by the name of rabbi but whose learning has been picked up from the `superficialities' and `waste' of Torah. They are unable to control even themselves, let alone other people. But they still have pretensions to greatness and seek to lead and guide the whole world. You should be very careful to accord them no recognition whatsoever so as not to add in any way to their power or authority. They themselves can be forgiven for what they do: they are
no more than the victims of a strong lust for power. It is the people who give them credibility and power and who are prepared to accord them the title of rabbi who will have a heavy penalty to pay."
(Reb Akiva) There have been times when the Jewish people have had leadership problems, and certainly everything written above has been encountered. Yet we live in an increasingly challenging time when even if our religious leaders are capable, others are running around making pronouncements in their name (and with copies of their signatures), such that it’s no longer possible to differentiate between real pronouncements, manipulated pronouncements, and fake pronouncements.
And even true tzaddikim are finding themselves enwrapped in organizations and handlers that use them for the organization and handlers’ goals.
A challenging time indeed. May Hashem lead us all to be able to see the truth.