Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lo Sasur Yamin O Smol

Well, it's been quite a while since I last posted, and I am sorry for that. It's been a bit busy, especially with my son's school giving way to much vacation (although, I remember when we had vacation and it was NEVER enough!:), and my daughter giving up one of her two naps and causing general mayhem, chaos, and destruction!;)

The Possuk in Yehoshua (1:7) says: "Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all the Torah that Moses my servant has commanded you. Therefore, do not stray right or left in order that you will succeed in wherever you go." God gave this commandment to Yehoshua, a commandment presumably applicable to us all. After all, if Yehoshua, who was but the moon to Moshe's sun, had to be commanded to be careful about not straying one way or another, does this not apply to all the rest of us as well?

We always hear complaints from those further to the right on the religion scale (you know, those more religious that others...) about how awful it is when people go "off the derech" or about people who just aren't "frum" or not "as" frum as they. Many of these people like to think of themselves as Chareidim, or Ultra Orthodox, which apparently makes the rest of us not as frum! Does this mean we don't keep Halacha? Personally, when someone asks me "What are you?", I usually answer "I'm a halacha following Jew." People love to niche, and people who keep more chumras than others think they are more "frum" than others.

However, the possuk doens't just say "do not stray to the left." It says "do not stray right or left," placing right before left, perhaps hinting to us that deviating to the right might even be worse than straying to the left! Unfortunatlely, it's often more difficult to look at someone wearing a black hat and say that person has strayed than it is to look at a Jew who is driving on shabbos and say "that person isn't frum!" But one has to learn to look beneath the top layer and see what is underneath. Does the person wearing the black hat treat his fellow Jew with love and respect? Personally, I've met many more people who wouldn't be considered "frum" who treat others with much greater respect than many black-hat-wearing rabbis who look down from their holier-than-thou pedestals and basically believe "those" people have no part in Olam Haba. Or who look down from their pedestals and decide not to pay their employees on time, if at all (but that's a different story).

In Judaism, we have a concept of not making the permissable, well, not permissable, just as we are not supposed to make that which is not permissable, well, permissable. This is a two way street: Lo Sosur Yamin O Smol - do not stray right or left.

Along these lines, my wife and I have come across a related concept that has been the topic of many discussions:

There is a posuk in the Devarim (4:2) that says: "Do not add to the what I have commanded you and do not detract (or subtract - same thing) from it..." Rashi comment on this possuk and says "for instance [do not] add a fifth species to [the mitzvah of] Lulav or a fifth fringe of Tzitzis, and, as well, do not dectract." In other words - don't add Chumrahs. Don't make the muttar ossur. I heard a joke once:

Dialogue while Moses is at the top of Sinai.

G-d: And remember Moses, in the laws of keeping Kosher, never cook a calf
in its mother's milk. It is cruel.

Moses: Ohhhhhh! So you are saying we should never eat milk and meat

G: No, what I'm saying is, never cook a calf in its mother's milk, its

M: Oh, What you are really saying is we should wait six hours after
eating meat to eat milk so the two are not in our stomachs.

G: No, Moses, what I'm saying is, don't cook a calf in it's mother's
milk, Its cruel!!!

M: Oh, Lord! Please don't strike me down for my stupidity! What you
mean is we should have a separate set of dishes for milk and separate set
for meat and if we make a mistake we have to bury that dish outside....

G: Moses, do whatever the heck you want.......

Obviously, this is an extreme. We all do firmly believe in the reasoning behind the posuk of "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" being repeated three times in the Torah - once not to cook them together, once not to eat it, once not to have benefit of any kind from it.

Here's what's interesting: There is another possuk in Devarim (17:11) that says something very similar: "According to the Torah they [the shofet, cohen, wise man] teach you and according to the judgement they tell you, you will do; you will not deviate from the word right or left." Sounds like it says Chachamim have carte blanche to say anything they tell you to do you have to do. This specific possuk is the one always quoted by the right wing, which they use to claim that everything a Gadol says, goes. However, like the right wing, missionary Christians, they quote this possuk out of context. This possuk cannot be read by itself. It must be read with the verses preceding it (17:8-13):

"If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously."

This possuk of listening to the Shoftim (judges), when read in context, takes on a completely different meaning! It's talking about going to a Din Torah when you yourself don't know what to do! This does not give anyone carte blanche to decide things. It is very clearly the basis of Hilchos Dayanim (Choshen Mishpat), which very specifically state that a Dayan really needs to know what he's doing when handing down a Psak Din and that a Dayan will judge based on the Torah he teaches - Al Pi HaTorah Asher Yorucha. There need to be logical reasons from the Torah explaining why a Dayan is handing down a specific Psak Din. Unfortunately, the first possuk I quoted above (Devarim 4:2) is never quoted by this party because that might actually say something like: "Hey, you don't have carte blanche to decide halacha anyway you like." Unfortunately, so many "Gedolim," be they of modern times or of old, believe differently because it gives them control and so many people follow them blindly, not taking any responsibility for themselves. It's almost like what Karl Marx said about religion being the opiate of the masses - let someone else think for me and tell me what to do. This is a terrible state of affairs in which so many purportedly "frum" Jews find themselves.

Next Up: Rabbis Need to Start Advising Responsibly, "Ki Karov Eilecha Hadavar Meod...," and Bas Kol...

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