Friday, December 29, 2006


Divrei Beit Hillel

In Devarim 17:10 it says "You shall not turn from the commandment to the right or left."
Rashi explains that this pasuk comes to teach us that we must listen to the Sages in all circumstances, even when they tell us that right is left and left is right.

Does this really mean that we must obey our Rabbis when they are wrong? This seems to clearly contradict the Gemara Yerushalmi in Horiyot, which states: You might think that if the Rabbis say the right is left or the left is right you have to listen to them. Therefore it says, to the right and left: when they tell you that the right is right and the left is left.

This textual tension is assuaged when we refer to the source for Rashi's statement, the Sifrei, which states that one must listen to their commandment, even if IT SEEMS to him that the right is left and the left is right.

Therefore it would appear that the verse is not giving blanket ability to the Rabbis to make mistakes, but rather restricting disobedience of their commandments to select cases in which it is clear that they are wrong. However, where does one draw the line?

Rambam, in his Sefer Mitzvot, draws on Shevuot 39A, which states: How do we know that Bnei Yisrael were bound at Har Sinai to commandments that were yet to come in addition to those that were commanded at Har Sinai? As it says (Esther 9), Kimu VKiblu HaYehudim - the Jews fulfilled and accepted it - they fulfilled that which was already accepted at Har Sinai. He expands on this idea by stating that one who violates a Rabbinic commandment also violates the negative Torah commandment given in our verse "Do not turn to the right or left." How can one risk violating this commandment by perceiving a Rabbinic commandment as fallible? While the Ramban does disagree with the Rambam over the technical violation entailed in such a disobedience, he agrees that one is obligated to obey whatever the Rabbis rule, EVEN if they err. As a support, he cites the mishnah in Rosh Hashanah 25, in which R. Yehoshua is forced to appear with his walking stick and traveling bag on the day he calculated was Yom Kippur in deference to R. Gamliel, the Av Beit Din, who disagreed.

Ramban even seems to indicate that one must listen to the Sanhedrin if they violate the Torah! This he bases on the verse (Tehillim 119:126) Et laasot laHashem - There is a time to do the will of Hashem. Indeed the Sefer HaChinuch states that even if the Sanhedrin erred and we are aware of this, we must do as they have commanded. He explains that this is because it is better to have unity, though we might be wrong, than to promote strife brought on by factionalism.

Still, do the Rabbis really have the right to contradict something in the Torah? The Gemara (Horiyot 4A) states: R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel, The Beit Din after teaching a false ruling is not liable to bring a korban until they teach a law that the Sadduccees do not agree with. But if they teach a thing erroneously that the Sadduccees agree with, they are liable. What is the reason? It is a matter that can be learned in school. The point of this Gemara is that an individual is expected to know when a law is clearly in the Torah (the kind that the Sadduccees agree with). Therefore, when Beit Din contradicts this law, the individual should know not to follow them, and is therefore responsible for his own actions. However when the Beit Din teaches Torah Shebeal Peh (which the Sadduccees do not give legitimacy to), they are responsible for what they say. This indicates that one indeed should disobey a Beit Din when it contradicts a Torah law.

Perhaps the Kli Yakar, in his commentary on our pasuk, sheds some light on our understanding of Et laasot. He explains that in many issues, there are reasons one both sides to influence the outcome one way or the other. These issues are normally decided according to the side that is more compelling. However, in special cases, certain issues can be decided according to the other side. A proof of this is the statement by Chazal that a person cannot become a member of the Sanhedrin until he can give 150 reasons to declare a sheretz (dead rodent that is normally tameh) tahor. This does not mean that what is clearly left is being made right. What instead follows is that sometimes things that may seem clearly to the right or left by us, are really ambidextrous, if you will. It is up to the Rabbis to take the gray and decide whether it is black or white. The decision process that they go through is not within our right to disregard, and according to the Rambam, even carries the severity of a negative Torah commandment. (Courtesy of Divrei Beit Hillel – Shoftim)


The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Where does Ramban say that this is a matter of עת לעשות? I haven't seen that in his Hasagos or in his peirush to Chumash.

Avromi said...

please remind me next week and i wll bli neder look it up; have a good shabbos

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I expect to forget.

Note that Ramban does say (in his Hasagos) that this is the will of HaShem; he just doesn't invoke עת לעשות anywhere that I can find.

Have a good Shabbos,