This essay was originally posted to RavAviner.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Q: Is there are obligation to honor whoever is elected the Chief Rabbi of Israel?
A: Absolutely. What kind of question is that?!
Explanation: One is obligated to honor every Torah scholar and one is obligated all the more so to honor the Chief Rabbi. This is the story in the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (25). Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin – i.e. the Chief Rabbi, ruled one way and Rabbi Yehoshua ruled another way. Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: “You have to come to me with your staff and your money belt on the day that you calculated to be Yom Kippur.” Rabbi Yehoshua asked Rabbi Dosa ben Hurkenos if he was obligated to go. He answered: “He is the Chief Rabbi and he decided. If you question this Chief Rabbi, you have to question every Chief Rabbi going back to Moshe Rabbenu.” If you say, “How was it that former times were better than these?” (Kohelet 7:10), you are incorrect. You forgot. “Go to the judge that will be in your days” (Devarim 17:9) – that is the judge you have. And the later generations should not say that the earlier generations were superior (Rosh Hashanah ibid.). Rabbi Yehoshua went and Rabban Gamliel stood up, kissed him on the head and said: “Peace be upon you, my Rabbi and my student. My Rabbi in wisdom and my student in that you obeyed me.” Fortunate is the generation where the elders – i.e. the greater Torah scholars – listen to the juniors, and all the more so when the juniors listen to the elders (Rosh Hashanah ibid.). This is an explicit Gemara. This is the way events occurred according to divine direction: each time there was a head of the Sanhedrin, there were greater Torah scholars than him. Certainly the Chief Rabbi of today is not like the head of the Sanhedrin back then, but the Torah scholars of today are also not like the Torah scholars back then. Each one according to his level.
In the book “Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah” (p. 212 and see the talk of Rav Tzvi Tau on Elkanah in Emunat Itenu vol. 1, p. 85), Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriyah relates that a Torah scholar who made aliyah from America came to Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook and complained about the state of Judaism in the Land of Israel. He was so distressed that he was considering leaving Israel. Maran Ha-Rav Kook said to him: Doesn’t your honor remember the learning of his youth? The Book of Shmuel relates about Elkana: “This man would ascend from his city every year to prostrate himself and to bring sacrifices to Hashem, Master of Legions, in Shiloh, and the two sons of Eli, Chofni and Phinchas, were cohanim to Hashem there” (Shmuel 1 1:3). Rav Kook asked two questions about this verse: 1. Why are we told in this verse that Chofni and Phinchas were there? 2. Our Sages say that Elkana would not only go up to Shiloh, he would go around and encourage others to do so as well. Why did he have to do this? After all, isn’t ascending to the Mishkan on the holidays a Torah mitzvah? Why weren’t people following this mitzvah? Rav Kook explains that the first question is in fact the answer to the second question. The fact that Chofni and Phinchas were the cohanim in Shiloh caused people not to make the pilgrimage there, since they were corrupt. People said that if there were Cohanim like this in this holy place, it was better not to go and see this ugliness and meet such sinners. Elkana then came and convinced them that despite the sons of Eli and despite the sins at this holy place, they should not give up on this mitzvah of Hashem. They should strengthen this holy place. Right now there are not great people there, but later there will be. Do not give up because of the difficulties. As a reward for this act, Elkana was blessed with a son, the prophet Shmuel, who served in the Mishkan. Rav Kook said to the Torah scholar that the same applies in relation to the holiness of the Land of Israel. Why are you mad at the Land of Israel? There are problems, therefore exert yourself and everything will work out. Although there are sinners, this is not a reason not to make Sliyah and all the more so not to leave the Land of Israel. The more people committed to the Torah and Mitzvot in the Land of Israel, the more holiness will be added to it.
There may be problems with the Chief Rabbinate, but you have to honor it. I have always said that the Chief Rabbinate is the nucleus from which the seedling will sprout from which the Sanhedrin will blossom. Everyone understands that it is not the Sanhedrin and it is not even a seedling of the Sanhedrin, but it is the nucleus and the nucleus is precious. Do you think the Sanhedrin will sprout from nothing? No, it will appear slowly. The same thing applies to the State of Israel. Okay there are difficulties, but what do you suggest? Would you prefer the British, the Turks or the Arabs? The State was built slowly. The Rabbinate was built slowly. The Yeshivot were built slowly. Everything is built slowly. If you want everything to be whole from the first moment, you will not have anything. There are ups and downs. You had Rav Kook who was a Torah giant and afterwards you had others who were less than Rav Kook, and so it seems that they will continue to be less than Rav Kook. The essence is that we must pay attention to the process and not reject something great when temporary difficulties arise.