by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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According to the Torah which they teach you, and the judgment which they say to you, do; Do not stray from the matter which they say to you [either] right or left.
Right or left: Rashi: Even if he says to you that right is left and left is right and certainly if he tells you right is right and left is left
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi seems to tell us something very strange. That we are to listen to our Judges even if they tell us the opposite of what we see - that right is left and left is right!
A Question: Why has Rashi brought this strange drash? Why doesn't he understand the verse simply - don't stray from the mitzvah either right or left?
Do you see what's bothering Rashi?
Hint: Compare our verse to verse 17:20
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Verse 20 says "do not stray from the mitzvah…"
While our verse says "Do not stray from the matter that they say to you …"
Do you see now why Rashi comments as he does?
An answer: Because our verse stresses "what they say to you", therefore Rashi also puts the emphasis on "straying from what they say to you. Meaning you must listen to them in all circumstances.
Rashi's source is the midrash Sifrei, says "If it what seems to you is right that it is left" etc. this softens matters somewhat. The Midrash implies that your personal judgment must be set aside for the judge's judgment.
But in fact this is really similar to Rashi, because what "seems to you' is what you think.
Ramban actually backs this understanding - that the judge is always right even he seems to even be wrong - because G-d guards His judges not to err. The Ramban explains this opinion by saying that since the Torah was given as a written document, and is be followed for eternity, it had to be interpreted according to many new situations which may arise but are not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. This inevitably leads to different opinions (as we see the many disputes in the Talmud). This necessitates one final arbiter - the Sanhedrin - whose decision everyone must follow whether they agree or not. Otherwise Torah Judaism will be fractionated into many different traditions. And our one Torah will become many Torahs; an intolerable situation for G-d's Torah.
But in fact there is another midrash found in the Jerusalem Talmud (horius 1:5) which says you should not follow a judge if he says the right is left or vise versa but only when he says right is right and left is left.
So we see there are two differing sources on the matter of "do not turn to the right or to the left." What does seem to be agreed today is we must follow our rabbis' decisions whether we agree or not , except in the unlikely case where they permit something obviously forbidden - like eating pork.
A second series of What's Bothering Rashi? will be coming out soon IY"H. Anyone who wants to have a dedication in these volumes can contact me.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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