Over lunch, Builder and I were discussing Matisyahu. Builder has said, point blank, that he lost all respect for Matisyahu after he shaved his beard. (I, personally, lost respect for him after he played a concert on Shiva Assar B'Tammuz, but let's not go into that here.) Builder said that Matisyahu was a hypocrite. I said that he may have gotten fed up with the emphasis on conformity that seems to trump spirituality at times.
Builder: "There's a value in conformity." Now there's a statement I don't agree with. It's not that I go out of my way to be different, it's that I really don't care if I am or not. If I had, I wouldn't have married Builder or homeschooled my kids. I simply asked, "What do you mean?"
Builder: "My mother, of blessed memory, said, 'Be a light passenger on the bus.' Don't make waves; don't stick out too much."
Me: "But every major improvement in Yiddishkeit has been made by non-conformists. Look at the Baal Shem Tov, Sarah Shenirer..."
Builder: "They were DRIVING the bus. They were leaders."
We have, sadly, become a generation without leaders. We have become used to accepting without question. Instead of looking to the source, we blindly follow the rabbis. We follow minhagim that we know nothing about and accept it as Torah M'Sinai. But if everyone throughout history had followed such a complacent path, there would be no worldwide network of Chabad houses or Bais Yaakov schools. There would be no Chassidim. There would be no kiruv. There would, in fact, be no Judaism. Remember that, according to the Midrash, Abraham's family manufactured and sold idols. Had Abraham questioned nothing, he would have quietly manufactured idols and faded out of history. But, because he refused to conform, because he thought for himself, he is now the spiritual father of half the world.
Why is no one driving the bus? Right now, we really don't need a driver. Every leader has arisen in response to a perceived need. A need for G-d, a need for drawing closer to G-d outside the confines of the pilpul, a need to bring the secular back to G-d, a need to educate girls to become proper Jewish women. (I may not agree with her methods, but I have a lot of respect for Sarah Schenirer. What she did took a lot of guts.). But right now, there is no need. Anti-Semitism is mostly confined to sentiments against Israel or against shechittah. There is, at least in Brooklyn and areas like it, an abundance of Jewish infrastructure. Little boys and girls have their pick of Jewish schools. There are multiple thriving kiruv organizations. We hunger or thirst for nothing, not even Torah. And yet, it is at this time that we are at our most vulnerable. As long as we were the underdog, the persecuted minority, we survived and thrived. But now that we've become a success, we may go the way of all the other great civilizations that reached the top of their game and faded into obscurity.