| The Day After |

How Will Our Kavod HaTorah Be Enhanced Post-corona?

When this is over, perhaps we can suggest a subtle change. Follow your rav, for sure. But that doesn’t mean the other one is wrong


Jews are passionate. The “porch minyanim are okay” people against the “it’s sakanas nefashos mamash” people. The “schools should give more than an hour a day” versus “it’s too much for the kids.” The “phone isn’t enough” facing off against team “Zoom will lead to Internet addiction.”

It’s not just the flurry of opinions, it’s the flurry of emotion: My rav is right and yours is wrong.

When this is over, perhaps we can suggest a subtle change. Follow your rav, for sure. But that doesn’t mean the other one is wrong.

You know what rabbanim are, right? They’re the ones who’ve given us stability over the last two months. The ones who, even without Piskei Teshuvos or easy-access psak seforim, were clear and direct from the start, segueing from the first psak about selling chometz gamur into the nightmarish world of end-of-life sh’eilos, when and how to fight the hospital and how to conduct a levayah with no people and no hespeidim.

The rav is the one who instantly grasped the challenges quarantine would pose to shalom bayis and chinuch and responded with more shiurim, classes, lectures, chizuk shmuessen, and private conversations.

Now, talmidei chachamim don’t have to “deliver” to be worthy of honor, but we can acknowledge their solidness and strength throughout what will go down in teshuvah seforim as “tekufas haKoronah.”

You see, Dr. Fauci can vacillate — he’s not sure, yes masks or no masks, time will tell, we may have a vaccine next year and we may not — but our rabbanim don’t have that luxury. The field of knowledge they represent is too precise for that.

So how can we honor them? They’re not the type to appreciate a drive-by honking thank-you parade. And free pizza for rabbanim like they do for first responders is a start, but it doesn’t cut it. (Anyhow, where would they eat it? Are rabbanim allowed to eat pizza? Does pizza even taste good if half the shul is judging you with each bite?)

We can probably assume that rabbanim weren’t looking for thank-yous when they signed up for a life of public service, and they’re content to shepherd HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s flock with patience and good humor without any ticker-tape parades. But given the clarity of vision quarantine has afforded us, we know that a thank-you is overdue, right? They were first responders all along. So when the debates hopefully settle down and we can go back to the simpler, less intense ideological battles, how will we ensure that our children (and ourselves?) have a proper approach to what is one of the bedrock principles of our faith?

We can start by taking a moment to contemplate what a talmid chacham is, what they know, how hard they’ve worked to get there. They are talmidei chachamim! That’s a big deal. Maybe the biggest deal of all. The light of Torah is real and it resides within them, upon them, around them.

If a talmid chacham would never pasken a sh’eilah, give a shmuess or guide a person, he is still worthy of reverence.

How would he characterize the apikores mentioned in the mishnah? Rav Yosef says, “It refers to one who asks, ‘How have the Rabbanan benefited us with their Torah study? They learn… for their own benefit.’ ” The gemara continues by stating that those who learn Torah maintain the existence of the entire world, protecting the place of their residence. (Sanhedrin 99b)

Respect for a talmid chacham means respect even if I personally don’t understand why he said/did/went/signed.

If in the pre-corona world you had boxes to categorize rabbanim — speaks too long, gives derashos that are too deep or too simple, wasn’t warm to my visiting brother-in-law, sees Trump differently than I do — now it’s time to let them go. Not because the rav is necessarily right on everything. Human infallibility was never a Jewish concept. We tremble when we say Rabi Akiva’s name — every day, in every beis medrash, his Torah is taught. His support of Bar Kochba, even as Bar Kochba was rejected by other Tannaim, is right there on record, in Chazal, but that’s not relevant to us.

Rabi Chananya ben Tradyon kept teaching Torah after it was outlawed by the Romans. Rabi Yosi ben Kisma urged him to stop. “Chananya my brother,” Rabi Yosi ben Kisma said, “don’t you know that this nation has been empowered by Heaven? I wonder if they will not burn you and the sifrei Torah together….”

That was a serious machlokes: more intense than any argument regarding porch minyanim or vaccinations. And yet we utter the name of Rabi Chananya ben Tradyon with awe as one of the Asarah Harugei Malchus, his name recited at the pinnacle of the Avodah on Yom Kippur.

So maybe this can be our post-corona adjustment. The next time you see that a position taken by a gadol baTorah runs counter to what you think, here’s what you do. (First of all, assume that the news site quoting the gadol is less than accurate, or that the report is based on someone with an agenda or impaired understanding of what the gadol said.) But even if you heard the words directly from the mouth of the talmid chacham, swallow hard and remember that he’s a talmid chacham and you’re not there yet, so even though you don’t understand it, that’s okay. You don’t have to.

If your rav and another rav disagree, great, follow your rav. There are always different opinions, but that doesn’t make you a bar plugta entitled to dismiss the other rav, because the essence of a talmid chacham is bigger than the positions he takes.

When this settles down — may it be soon, b’ezras Hashem — that would be a nice takeaway. Hatzolah members are heroes and rebbeim and moros are champions, but talmidei chachamim are far and away our greatest national asset. Don’t be small enough to see them as a collection of positions; be big enough to see the flame of Torah burning inside them.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 811)

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