Shoftim: Harry vs The Gedolei HaDor

This week I had one of the pleasures of living in Eretz Yisroel.

My chavrusa (learning partner) had drop off his brother from the States to a place far up north. And because it was family business, his mother paid for the rental car and gas. He planned to drop off his brother, and on the way back stop off at kivrei tzaddikim (graves of the tzaddikim) to daven. Being that I spent three weeks in front of my computer with little spirituality, I decided to invite myself along. He also decided to invite his brother-in-law to come with, since he knows the north very well.

So, I was up at 4:45 am and we were on the road 30 minutes later. We drove through the Jordan valley with sunrise, davened Shachris in Tiberius, drove around the Kinneret, raced up a mountain, and ate breakfast over-looking the entire sea. After that, we drove further north, waited for 15 minutes while the tanks finished their live-fire exercise on one of the roads, dropped off his brother, and raced to Tzvas. We davened by the grave of the Arizal, turned south and went back to Tiberius, where we davened at the grave of the Shlah HaKodesh and the Rambam. The Rambam was especially nice, since the day before, I bought myself a set of Mishna Torah, which he wrote several hundred years ago. So, here I was in Eretz Yisroel davening at his grave.

We came home exhausted, by relaxed. It’s good to be here.

Okay, on to Torah!

Earlier, I promised another blood-boiling dvar Torah, and here it is.

I admit, it’s on the longer side, and it could easily be longer still. However, I encourage the reader to print it out to read it, for I think it contains a very important lesson for us, especially with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur around the corner.

It is in response to the response I received concerning the Emmanuel situation and the mistaken ways that the leaders of our generation are viewed by some (i.e., those without any connection to such leaders).

When discussing the case, we had two ‘sides’. The first was Harry the Armchair Israeli who lives in America, visits once a year (maybe), works during the day, comes home, watches the news, reads the web, perhaps blogs his opinion about things, goes learns for an hour, and feels like the epitome of a well-rounded Jew. On the other hand, we have the Gedolei Hador (the spiritual leaders of our generation), who have spent their lives learning and working on themselves, who have achieved heights that we can only imagine, and who have been “sanctioned” by the leaders of the previous generation, who in turn have been sanctioned by the leaders of their generation, etc…

We’ll start off with a few sources and then go into it.

“You shall come to the Cohanim, the Leviim, and to the judge who will be in yours days… You shall do according to the word that they will tell you, from that place that Hashem will choose, and you shall be careful to do according to everything that they will teach you… you shall not turn from the word that they will tell you, right or left” (Devarim17: 9-11)

“Even if he says to you about right- that it is left; and about left – that it is right….” (Rashi on above)

“That is even if it seems obvious to you that the judges are in error.” (Ramban on the above Rashi)

Concerning our pasuk, where it says that we shall go “to the judge who will be IN YOUR DAYS”, the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 25b) asks, why does it say “in your days”? It’s because you are to go to the leader that is in your days, not an earlier one. It also teaches us that each leader of the generation is compared to Moshe and his generation, and that we shouldn’t complain that the leaders of the earlier generations were better than the later ones.

“All of us have Daas Torah (Torah minds) to a certain degree. Some have perhaps 50%, others 15%, and the rest of the person’s mind is not Daas Torah but perhaps a business mind or his wife’s or children’s opinion, or some other type of understanding… Daas Torah of 100% is only found amongst Gedolei Torah who have cast off the transient vanities of this world and are loyal only to the Torah perspective”
-Rav Elchonon Wasserman

Okay, I think we can start here.

I heard a talk from Rav Shlomo Brevda once. Rav Brevda is an elderly rav born and raised in America, and was close to the leaders of the previous generation. Once, when he was much younger, he gave his un-asked-for opinion to one of the rabbeim in yeshiva on how the yeshiva should be run. Needless to say, the rav “gave it to him” for his “opinion”. He said to Rav Brevda, “Do you know the difference between you and me? You’re an American… When we learned Gemara in Europe, we would learn, ‘Abbaya says this and Rav says this’, and we would bang our heads trying to understand Rav and Abbaya. You? You learn, ‘Abbaya says this, Rav says this, and I say this!’”

How true it is of our generation.

When we are sick, we go to a doctor. We put our trust in the doctor. If he says to do something we do it, even if it seems strange to us. We would never say, “This doctor is obviously a quack. He told me to take this pill and it will magically make me better!” The only time that we might doubt what that particular doctor said is when a doctor of equal or higher standard says something different or contradictory. In that case, we have someone to “lean on” and we can feel comfortable to “side” with the second doctor.

Life is no different.

We have spiritual leaders that have reached levels that we have not. They have dedicated their entire essence to coming close to Hashem. Like our above Gemara says, we are to treat them as if they were the “Moshe of our times”. Therefore, when they come out with an opinion or a ruling, we do not treat it lightly, even if we don’t understand it.

Over the years, I have seen many people write or say things that are very demeaning to such talmidim chachamim. They cannot fathom why such Torah giants could have said “X and Y” that their “uplifted” and “educated” minds disagree with. So, they come up with excuses and reasons that this particular rav is wrong:

“He’s getting old and his mind might not be there”

“It’s a ‘fact’ that he is being controlled by evil groups and people”

“He obviously must have forgotten this particular Gemara which says…”

“He’s disconnected with reality”

“There’s politics involved”

“It’s all about power”

“Clearly, he could not/did not research the issue fully”

“That protest/ban/edit that the “Gedolim” did was a real chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name)”

The list goes on and on. And the funny part is they always include the line “I mean no disrespect to the rav… BUT…”

Now, we won’t go into the laws of loshon horah. But stating such lines, ESPECIALLY stating them as ‘fact’, when one does not know it as ‘fact’, constitutes loshon horah. Not just regular loshon horah, but loshon horah against Torah scholars… a big, fat, ‘no-no’.

One of the greatest benefits I have received since moving here is that I have rabbeim who are close to such scholars and leaders. My Rosh Yeshiva is a close student of Rav Shmuel Auerbach; the rav of our neighborhood is a close student of Rav Eliyashuv. Rabbeim as such have spent years around their rabbeim, learning as much as they can from them on how to be a proper Jew. If you look in the Gemara (Brachos 47b), it says that someone who has learned and studied, but has not spent time in apprenticeship with Torah scholars – that person is considered an am ha’aretz – unlearned. Can the Harrys of the world say they have served and CONTINUE to serve Torah scholars? No… they can’t, because they’re too busy with other “important” things. Perhaps they can claim they knew certain rabbis from their yeshiva days (if they had), but if they have and continue to spend time learning from such rabbeim… they would probably be bnei Torah and not armchair Israelis.

Another benefit of having been around such people is this. Unfortunately, there are people who like to come up with their own ‘halachos’ and say that Rav So-and-So agrees with them. They put up signs saying so and that this is permitted or this is forbidden (happens all the time here). When you have such rabbeim, it’s easy to ask them if their rav said such a thing. Most of the time, it’s not true. But instead of believing it and attacking the rabbeim for “making such a decision”, I know that he never said it in the first place and I have no qualms.

Yet another benefit of being around such rabbeim is that they understand what the Gedolei Hador mean and where and when their opinions or rulings apply. Many times a big rav will make a general statement, but it’s not a blanket statement as people mistakenly believe. His students or those who speak to him directly can ascertain when it applies and when it doesn’t.

Another benefit of living here in general is the ability to speak to them in person. I have been lucky enough to go in and see Rav Eliyashuv (long line to get into) and Rav Scheinberg, and my wife and I often consult Rav Yaakov Hillel (a Sephardi! Gasp!) on certain issues.

Harry, halfway across the globe, cannot do any of the above things.

I was recently … informed… and I have seen others write that “shutting off your brain whenever a Gadol says something”, is “alien to the Torah”.

I have yet to see proof from the Torah on this. To counter this idea, I bring the pasuk from this week’s parsha and the Rashi and Ramban that accompanies it:

“Even if he says to you about right- that it is left; and about left – that it is right….” (Rashi)

“That is even if it seems obvious to you that the judges are in error.” (Ramban)

While this pasuk is referring to the Sanhedrin and the judges when the Beis HaMikdash is standing, we see very clearly that “shutting off your brain when a Gadol speaks” IS a concept that the Torah commands. Unless, of course, we wish to say that Rashi and the Ramban are merely introducing something alien to the Torah….

If you hear something in the name of a rav, you have two choices. One, you can dismiss it with one of the excuses listed above. It might make you feel better, but as noted, you might run into loshon horah, and other problems.

The second option is to seek your rav, who in turn, has a rav of his own, etc… and has a general idea of what the Torah wants from us and how the Gedolei HaDor think, since he has spent time with them. He can first ascertain if this was said in the first place. And if so, he can ascertain when such a thing applies and if it applies to you.

The Chazon Ish who was practically the defacto leader of Torah Jews in Israel until his death in 1953 wrote a chilling piece which can be read in his “Emunah V’Bitachon” (Faith & Trust… now in English). It’s as if he had internet blogs back then:

“There is yet another disease of the spirit that the evil inclination uses to keep the belief in Sages from entering people’s hearts, and that is the fickle scale of personal interest. The disciple is to believe that there is no personal interest powerful enough to incline the heart of a scholar to pervert justice… But the evil inclination can undermine this trust, by entrapping those who tend towards convoluted reasoning, and offering them a complete theory, supposedly drawn from the Gemara, that personal interest has definitive power for the petty and the great alike…. According to this “theory”, the scholar, who “gives in to personal interest”, has nothing to be ashamed of, for such is human nature… FOR EVEN IF A PERSON WILL RECOGNIZE THE IMMENSE WIDOM OF THE WISE, HE WILL NOT FEEL OBLIGATED TO OBEY HIM, AS HE WILL FIND SOME REASON TO CLAIM THAT THE SCHOLAR’S DECISION WAS SWAYED BY PERSONAL INTEREST. THIS CAN BE CLAIMED BY ANYONE WHO IS NOT SATISFIED WITH THE SCHOLAR’S DECISION, AND SO THE GENERATION BEGINS TO JUDGE ITS JUDGES, AND ANYONE CAN DO AS HE PLEASES. In any important case, clever ones will whisper to one another of some personal interest that cause the sage – sometimes the greatest man in the generation – to judge wrongly. In such a case, the city’s atmosphere, and sometimes the entire county’s atmosphere becomes permeated with malicious words, dispute and feuds – and the source of it all is a lack of faith in Torah scholars.

“Naturally, speaking such thoughts, even if they are true, and all the more so if they are not, is even worse. And if the person being condemned is a Torah scholar, then it is a case of defaming a Torah scholar, and the person doing so is included in the category of a heretic (apikorus).

“People who question the integrity of a sage transgress severely by saying that they have not sinned at all, while they are destroying the foundations of the Torah, and naturally they come up with personal interests that have never occurred to the sage himself. An unintentional sin that results from lack of proper learning is like an intentional one”

The idea of faith in our Sages is difficult in our generation. We are bogged down with everybody’s opinion on this and that. Many of us do not have a connection with such Sages, whether by choice or by circumstance. However, it is a Torah concept to believe and trust in them. They are the “Moshes of our generation”, and we are obligated to treat them as such. As we have seen through the Chazon Ish, this issue is not to be taken lightly, and carries series consequences to those who do not heed them.

Hopefully, we can all stay away from such sources of loshon horah and pettiness, and focus on our relationship with Hashem, and place our respect where it belongs.

With that, I wish you all a good Shabbos!