Shabbat Parashat Shemot | 5770
Ein Ayah: The Danger of Accusing Scholars of Ulterior Motives
(based on Berachot 3:28)
Gemara: What is an example of one who speaks negatively about a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) after his death? It is as is found in a mishna: He [Akavya ben Mehalalel] said: The special sota waters are not administered to a convert or a freed slave. The Rabbis said that they are administered. They brought a proof from the story whereby a freed maid servant from Karakamit had sota waters administered to her by Shmaya and Avtalyon. Akavya answered: doogma they gave her to drink. They placed a ban on him, and he died with the ban upon him.
Ein Ayah: Rashi explains that doogma means that they gave her to drink because they were similar to her (they were from the families of converts).
The idea of speaking negatively about deceased talmidei chachamim refers to cases where someone assumes a suspicion that certain rulings of rabbis were motivated not by the depth of their understanding of the Torah’s laws or the true traditions they received but by personal interests, Heaven forbid. Actually, even if the critics were right, we would still be obligated to follow their rulings, for the Torah was not given to angels. Once someone is a decisor of Torah and his words were accepted by the rabbinical courts of the time, the Torah law to not stray from the words of the Rabbis applies. It is not for us to decide whether their intentions were pure from the outset regarding the case and whether the ruling was purely to get to the truth, which is certainly the case, or whether there was a matter of interest that sways the intellect. In any case, once the halacha is set, it becomes an entire element of Torah and woe unto us if we destroy it and weaken the hands of those who hold the tree of life [that the Torah is]. Rather we must fulfill with love and with holy trepidation all the words of the Rabbis and the fine inferences that the scholars make.
However, in the area of general morals, this bad [critical approach toward the Rabbis] makes many breaches by removing the foundation of the element of respect and honor for great people according to their holy and exalted value. This is along the situation that the prophet bemoans: “the youngster will be insolent to the elder” (Yeshaya 3:5).
Any society in which this phenomenon exists stands to be ruined even in the short term. This is certainly the case for the “vineyard of the house of
This is why the gemara explains the foundation of speaking negatively about a deceased scholar by giving the case of accusing Shmaya and Avtalyon of giving a woman sota water to drink because she was similar to them. This would be an example of mixing in concern for their own dignity [by not distinguishing between their lineage and that of standard Jews] into their Torah rulings.
How out of hand is our generation in this regard of accusing the Rabbis of ulterior motives! May Hashem purify our wayward impulses and see to it that Hashem sees to our salvation, so that we will recognize the greatness of the fathers of our national goals, as the pasuk says: “Eating too much honey is not good, but the more one uncovers the honor [of the wise] is honorable” (Mishlei 25:27) [There are many explanations of this difficult pasuk; we hope we provided the one Rav Kook intended].
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