Sunday, November 04, 2007

Respect for Torah Leaders

Rabbi Avi Shafran has an important essay about the vital importance of according proper respect to the views of gedolie Torah(Torah leaders).

He quotes the chazal regarding "binyan yeladim stirah, v'stiras zekenim binyan":

Commenting on the decision made by the Judean King Rechavam (King Solomon’s son) to shun the advice of the elders of his father’s court and heed instead the advice of younger advisors (Kings I:12), the Talmud remarks: “[What might seem] constructive on the part of the young [can in fact be] destructive; and [what might seem] destructive on the part of elders [can in fact be] constructive” (Nedarim, 40a). Rechavam’s wrong choice brought schism to the Jewish kingdom, fanning the flames of rebellion.

I noted the balance, towards the end of the article, between having an opinion and respecting views of gedolim:

It’s not only the so-called “Law of Unintended Consequences” that can figure into weighty decisions. A host of factors can make the right decision seem the wrong one, puzzling observers, even outraging them. To be sure, we all have a right to our opinion, and much can be gained by sharing our perspectives with others.

But two vital commodities in all-too-short supply these days are humility and respect for elders. We do well to consider that our confidence—“evidence” and all—that we know what is best no more qualifies us to make the right decision than putting a ranger’s hat on a bear’s head and a shovel in his hand makes him an expert on forest conservation.

At times, I will meet a person who will tell me, or imply , that I am not permitted to even express an opinion because I do not have daas Torah. I believe that such views do harm to true kvod chachamim, by implying that we live in a communist society, where a person is not even allowed to express an opinion!

This is why I am happy that Rabbi Shafran writes "we all have a right to our opinion, and much can be gained by sharing our perspectives with others". Of course, there is an appropriate way to express an opinion, and how to discuss words of Torah leaders. Much depends on the forum and on the care one takes in choosing how one expresses himself.

Kavad hatorah is vital, yet it does not come naturally, given that we naturally value personal autonomy. We should not, however, make it harder than it actually is, by implying that daas Torah means that we are not permitted to think for ourselves.

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