The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:6) states that we should make ourselves (have) a Rabbi, and buy ourselves a friend.
Generally our perspective is highly subjective and biased with respect to all matters concerning our self. Our desires blind our eyes from anything other than the object of our desires and prevent us from weighing the pros and cons objectively. For this reason, writes Meiri in his commentary to Proverbs (20:18), one needs the perspective of someone who is removed from all the subjective biases that cloud one’s vision, someone who can weigh the situation without having to contend with a welter of strong desires. With the help of good friends and advice from Sages we are destined to succeed along the right path.
Our Parsha commands us to adhere to the teachings of the Jewish Court: “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word they will tell you, right or left”. Devarim (17:11).
Not only is there a positive command to listen to a Jewish Court, but moreover there is a negative prohibition of deviating from that which they tell you.
The Sefer haChinuch explains that the nature of human beings is that they are argumentative and have disagreements. People view things differently. The Almighty realized that if everyone had the ability to interpret Torah according to their own understanding of the Pesukim, anarchy would reign amongst the Jewish people. Such an approach would be a recipe for disaster and the Torah would quickly disintegrate into a multiplicity of legal codes. Therefore, it is incumbent on the masses to follow the central authority of the Jewish High Court.
Lest we think that this only applies to the Sanhedrin that sat in the Hewn Chamber on the premises of the Holy Temple, the Chinuch continues: “And thus it is to be in each and every generation that the masses must listen to the Sages (of that generation) who received their tradition with much diligence and effort from the Sages of previous generations. And concerning this matter, the scripture enjoins us not to deviate from the words of our teachers ‘to the right or to the left’. Our rabbis have interpreted this to mean that even if they tell us that what we think is our right hand is our left hand and what we think is our left hand is our right hand, we should accept their teaching.” (Sifrei)
How can this be so? If we empirically know that the Sages are wrong, then why listen to them? The Chinuch addresses this question:
“Even if they are in error about a certain matter, it is inappropriate for us to dispute them and we should go along with their error. It is better to suffer with their single mistake (rather than undermine their authority), so that in general their good advice will remain sovereign and the masses will always be bound by their wise authority.” In other words, they may be wrong on occasion but it is better for the “system” that they not be questioned, even about their obvious errors. Once people start arguing with the Sages, the entire infrastructure of Rabbinic authority will collapse. Once the system collapses, it’s all over! It is better live with the mistake, rather than destroy the whole system.
The Alter of Novordok, Rav Yosef Yoisel Horowitz states that when the rabbis give a Mashal (parable) to explain the words of the Torah, its not accidental. They could have said if the Rabbi tells you white is black, or black is white then believe him. Why did they chose to express the belief in our Sages through the example of – if the Sages tell you that your right hand is your left and vice versa you should follow their words?
Rav Horowitz gives an awesome explanation, when someone tells you that your right hand is your left, they are telling you that you are going in the completely wrong direction. You must turn around, and when you do, your right hand will be in the same place as your left and vice versa.
When the Mishna taught; “Make a rabbi for yourself” – the real meaning is to make yourself have a rabbi that you are prepared to listen to. A Rabbi that you trust and have confidence in, so much so, that were he to tell you to change directions in life you would observe his advice.
Baruch Hashem this generation has been blessed with Talmidei Chachamim, Great Sages that are happy to grant advice and help us lead the correct path.
I recently heard a story of a Holocaust survivor who was permitted to remarry on the basis of evidence that her husband had perished in the concentration camps. Then, after more than 20 years, when she had grown children of marriageable age, she met her first husband. The distraught woman came to seek Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s guidance.
R Moshe asked the woman to tell her story. She told of how she had brought her case before a well-known Rav in one of the Displaced Persons Camps after the war. Based on available testimony and evidence, this Rav had ruled it correct to assume her husband dead, and had given her a document containing this decision. It was on the basis of this ruling that she had remarried. The Rav had passed away not long after the war, and, due to the chaotic post-war conditions, she had lost the document. Now she and her family were suffering indescribably from a mistake that was not theirs.
Rabbi Moshe asked to repeat her story, and she did so. He asked her to tell it a third time. Why was R Moshe tormenting the poor woman so? R Moshe then rose, leaned across the table and said agitatedly to the woman, “It cannot be! I knew the rav of whom you speak. He was a Gaon and a Tzadik, and I do not even approach his ankles in Torah. I have permitted over two thousand Agunot to remarry and never did the first husband reappear. Now you are telling me that such a thing could have happened to that Tzadik? It is impossible! It cannot be!” The people in the room were shocked that R Moshe, who was famous for his mild manner and compassion, could have spoken in such a way to a woman in distress. But their shock gave way to incredulity when the woman broke down in tears and admitted that her story was indeed false. She had been sure that her husband was dead – how could he have survived, she had asked herself. When she heard that a highly respected rabbi had passed away, she made up the story concerning the document, using that rabbi’s name.
The Torah is the blue print of the world, and our Sages are constantly connected to it. They live their every second by it, and are true servants of Hashem.
They too are human and there is of course always the possibility that they can err, nevertheless the Torah commands us to follow them every step of the way. That is the right thing, even if we think it might not be.