Monday, December 05, 2005

Dr. Shnayer Leiman Speaks @ Etz Chaim for Seudat Shlishit - Summary

So Eliyahu and I decided to attend the Seudat Shlishit. First, the important stuff: The tuna fish was good, the egg salad even better, and the challah rolls were Zomicks. All in all, quite good.

Oh, they also had pretzel sticks.

The actual talk was also quite good. He fit it into the framework of tolerance and sensitivity, and not trying to ban and quash every person who advances ideas we might disagree with. (Recent events in the Jewish community make the application fairly obvious.) I am not going to do the talk justice, but will give a brief summary, omitting many historical details he mentioned. Any errors are obviously my own.

He told two stories. The first is a fairly famous one, though I got the impression that the audience had not heard it. He translated it from the sefer Michtav MeEliyahu (no, a different one.) There was a court case involving a Jew from Navardok and a Jew from Mir. They agreed to a zabla (a contraction of zeh borer lo echad), in which each litigant chooses one judge and together, the two judges choose a third. The Jew from Mir chose Rav David of Mir, the rosh yeshiva of Mir at the time, and the Jew from Navardok chose Rav David of Navardok, the chief rabbi of Navardok. The two Rav Davids chose Rav Chaim Volozhin as the third.

Each Rav David presented the case to Rav Chaim Volozhin, with countless gemaras - Bavli and Yerushalmi supporting the litigant from his respective town. R' Chaim dismissed R' David of Navardok's proofs, at which point the latter came up with even more proofs, from other gemaras, that the litigant from his town was correct. R' Chaim dismissed these proofs as well. Since the Bet Din consists of three judges and they rule after the majority, the third judge's decision is the binding one, since he combines with one of the two chosen ones to form a 2-1 majority.

[A digression: This seemed a bit off to me - once the judges are chosen, should they not all consider the case on the halachic basis, impartially? Yet here it seemed like the chosen judges were arguing on behalf of their client!

In fact, this is all above board and they have an obligation to do so. See the following from R Yechiel Michel Epstein, chief rabbi of Navardok (during a different time), in his work, Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat, Siman 13, Seif 1 and 3:

End digression.]

Anyway, R' David of Navardok was miffed, and went away a bit insulted.

There was an annual business fair in which the various rabbis also gathered. They gave sample shiurim and bochurim would decide which yeshiva was appropriate for them on this basis. Ever since this court case, R' David of Navardok did not show. The reason for this was that everyone would greet the Gadol HaDor, who was R' Chaim Volozhin, and R' David did not want to do this.

A certain gevir, a rich businessman from Navardok [ed: Yosef Tabak, who was the one who related the story to the author] was embarrassed that the chief rabbi of his town was not coming, and tried to persaude R' David to come. The latter gave an excuse that he did not have money for travel to the fair, nor room and board when he got there. The gevir offered to give R' David a ride, and pay for his room and board, and so R' David had no excuse.

When they arrived, the rabbonim would put their bags down and immediately go to pay respects to R' Chaim Volozhin. This R' David did, for he was not going to make a scene and cause insult, etc. R' Chaim greeted him, and then remarked that perhaps R' David could do him a favor. There were many court cases at the fair, and perhaps R' David could be a dayan. R' David at first refused, but he was rather destitute, and the judges were paid a tidy sum of 10 rubles up front, and so R' David agreed. R' Chaim said that when a case arose, it would be sent to his hotel room.

A few days later, the litigants arrived. Each paid his 5 rubles, and R' David heard the case, and ruled in a certain way.

When leaving the fair, R' David first took his leave of the Gadol HaDor. He thanked R' Chaim profusely for the case. Then R' Chaim asked him about the details of the case, and then how he had ruled. R David told him, and R' Chaim exclaimed that he had ruled well. Then R' Chaim began to pace. After a few minutes, R' Chaim asked him - was this case not identical to the case in which they had sat together several years past. R' David thought about it and concluded that, indeed, the two cases boiled down to the same thing. "Yet," remarked R' Chaim, "here you ruled the same way I ruled back then. And back then, you were presenting all sorts of arguments the other way, and thought that that was the correct conclusion!" The difference, he concluded, was that back then R' David was arguing in favor of one litigant, such that he had negiot, whereas here, he was trying to determine the truth. Thus, R' David no longer bore any grudge against R' Chaim, and came to the fair year after year after that.

Many years later, after R' Chaim had passed on, R' David was at the fair and he saw one of his litigants from the court case at the fair. He ran after him and wanted to make sure that they had actually acted in accordance with his ruling. The litigant began to laugh. He explained that neither he nor the other "litigant" had seen each other before that day. They were students at Volozhin at different times, and when they greeted R' Chaim, he gave them each 5 rubles, told them their stories that they were to present, and told them to appear at the inn to present their case. Thus, R' Chaim had arranged a court case parallel to the one that occurred much earlier, in order to remove the hurt from R' David's heart.

The second story I had not heard before, and it was from a sefer called Chut HaMeshulash. Rav Chaim Velozhin's brother was Rav Shlomo Zalman of Velozhin. He was the favorite student of the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon was, for very good reasons, trying to ban Chassidut, because of various aspects of chassidut which have changed since then. The brought the paper with the text of the ban on it before Rav Shlomo Zalman of Velozhin, and asked him to sign it. He refused. They pointed out to him that the top signature, under the text of the ban, was that of his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon. He still refused to sign. He explained based on the following, from parshat Vayera:

When Hashem commanded Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak, we read {Bereishit 22:1-2}:

א וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, וְהָאֱלֹקִים, נִסָּה אֶת-אַבְרָהָם; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי. 1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham'; and he said: 'Here am I.'
ב וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ. 2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.'

Yet when the time came to save Yitzchak, we read {Bereishit 22:11-12}:

יא וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ ה, מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּנִי. 11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said: 'Abraham, Abraham.' And he said: 'Here am I.'
יב וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה: כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹקִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ, מִמֶּנִּי. 12 And he said: 'Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.'

To save, you can utilize an angel of Hashem. But to kill, you have to hear from Hashem himself. My Rebbe, The Vilna Goan, said Rav Shlomo Zalman, is like an angel. But he is not Hashem. And to sign this ban - to kill - I would need to hear from Hashem himself.

And this shows the legacy of Rav Chaim Volozhin. The first story shows the sensitivity Rav Chaim had for the feelings of someone whose opinion he rejected, such that he put himself to great effort to make things right between them. And the second shows how his brother felt that one can differ from you on some critical matter, yet there is room for him to differ, and you do not have to kill him by placing him under a ban.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin