אמונת חכמים – trusting our sages

I think that we all face a certain difficulty when it comes to the concept of אמונת חכמים – trusting the sages of our generation. I think it is important to read a beautiful piece from the Chazon Ish in order to get the proper perspective on this matter.

Chazon Ish (Emunah and Bitachon 3:30)

There is another evil sickness that the Evil Inclination uses as a disguise, in order to prevent a person from trusting the sages, and it is giving false weight to the concept of bias. It is necessary for a student to have faith that there is no bias in the world that has the power to weigh the heart of the wise to bend from the proper judgment. This is because the desire of the wise is to give merit to his soul, and to relieve himself of the guilt that causes his soul more pain than any physical wound. How could it be that he would strike his soul by being swayed in judgment in exchange for the benefit of money or to prevent others from scorning him? Additionally, the characteristic of Truth is fundamental to the makeup of the wise person, the root of his existence, and any semblance of falsehood is antithetical to him. This is the understanding of the many who attach themselves to the wise.

However, the Evil Inclination has dug a ditch to undermine this fundamental faith, to entrap the souls of those who believe themselves to be wise. He brings them a complete lesson from our teachings that a bias can affect all people, from the smallest to the greatest. Even the most wise can bend toward their bias, even the most righteous and saintly can fall prey to this mistaken judgment. They are also convinced that this is not even something negative – it is the nature of all people. They do not realize that because of this assumption, they are killing an entire generation. As a result of this mistake, there can be no judge, and the courts have become nullified; because even if one will acknowledge the great wisdom of the wise, it will not be obligatory to listen to them, since every judgment they pass will be easily associated with some bias. This will be the automatic thought process of anyone who is dissatisfied with the wise man’s decision. Through this mistake, a generation rises that is constantly involved in judgment of its own judges. This results in a state of being where each man does just as he pleases. In any important event, those who think themselves wise are busy whispering with each other about what bias affected the judgment that was passed, and they will even sometimes apply this to the greatest of the generation, saying that he came to a mistaken conclusion. Thus, the atmosphere of the city, and sometimes the atmosphere of the entire country, is filled with flagrant speech, fights and battles, with ever-increasing lack of trust in the wise.

The root of this opinion is found in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (18B), where we see that a king and a high priest can not be part of the court that is deciding on whether to add a month to the lunar year. The king may not be on the court, because he has a bias – he would like the year to be longer because he pays his army by the year, and would like another month of work for the same price. The high priest may not be on the court, because he has a bias – he would like a month less so that when he performs the service on Yom Kippur it is earlier in the season, and he will be saved from the cold. This law is stated in regards to any king, even one who is the most righteous that is possible, and in regards to any high priest, even one as great as Shimon Hatzadik. We also find a similar proof from the Gemara in Kesuvos (105B), that two great sages did not want to judge a case which involved even a hint of bribery.

However, the concept of the bribe of a judge is a unique idea. This is because the receiving of a bribe is something the Torah explicitly states is disgusting, and it has the spiritual power to cause the eyes of the wise to be blinded, and to skew his judgment. Since we find that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world, therefore the bribe is invested with the unholy spiritual power to blind and skew, and there must be an exhortation to distance oneself from it. This means that besides for the natural inclination of a person to be swayed by his bias, there is an additional impure spiritual power that is contained within the concept of bribery to stop up the heart and to bring down the intuition, to make it more palatable to the judge to find the merit on the side of the one who gave him the bribe. Once the Torah has taken away his permission to judge the case between the one who bribed him and the other litigant, he has lost his normal level of wisdom – that ordinarily protects him from stumbling in sin and guilt – if he has transgressed that which the Torah exhorts and indeed sits in judgment against the command of the Torah.

This concept of the bribe is therefore not a mitzvah which is understandable by the human intellect, rather it is a חק – a law that is beyond our comprehension. This is supported by the fact that we find that the Torah does not forbid a person from giving a halachic ruling for himself – a person is said to be able to see that his own animal is a Treifah (non-Kosher), and even if he is poor and his very life depends on this animal. A person can give a ruling on his own Chametz that passed through Pesach, even though he stands to lose a tremendous amount of money. If he rules that it is permitted and someone will look on and think that he ruled this way because of a monetary bias, this person is like someone who mistakenly thinks negative thoughts about his teacher. We trust our sages that they are removed from this type of pettiness, and the only ones who will suspect them are small minded people, lacking intuition, that do not know or understand the soul of the wise.

And even in a judgment between one man and his fellow, the Torah only disqualifies the bribe at the time of judgment, but the Torah does not forbid judging someone who is his good friend or his enemy; only someone who is so beloved that he escorted him to his wedding and someone who he hates so much that he hasn’t spoken to him for three days, according to an alternate opinion (Choshen Mishpat Siman 7:67 in the Hagah). This is true despite the fact that a person naturally wants to do good for someone he loves, and to cause ill to someone he despises. Nevertheless, the impure spiritual power of bribery is not present, and the Torah completely trusts the wise judge to see straight, and not allow his heart to be turned toward his natural inclination, but rather it has become second nature for the wise to have the Truth as a candle for his steps and a light for his path, and his righteousness will bring about the proper judgment.

Not only this, but we also find that a person can judge for himself in a circumstance that involves significant loss, and we do not suspect that he will make a biased decision. We find that a judge who was found guilty of having money that was not rightfully his is stripped of his status as a judge – [only here does he lose his trustworthiness, when he shows his lust for money] and we do not find a merit for him as a result of his bias.

In the case where we saw that the sages invalidated a judge who is biased in regards to adding a month to the year, this is because it is called a judgment as the gemara says in Rosh Hashana (25B), and we therefore give it the status of a case of judgment, and all of this is included in the חק of bribery, some of which constitutes an enactment of the sages, some of which is a stringency for the righteous. That which we found in regards to two sages (Kesuvos 105B) that they did not want to judge a case because they felt a bias in the case [as a result of a near bribe], this is referring to a natural bias. In greater people, this natural inclination is stronger, corresponding to their stronger intellect, in order to maintain the balance necessary for free choice, so that there is significance when they c
hoose the good, which is the entire purpose of the creation (בריאה) of man. It could be that this aspect of the stringency for the righteous is also found in the secret of creation (יצירה), and when the bribery exerts its spiritual power to blind, power is also given to the bribe to blind, even at this level of the stringency. [I think he means that these great sages were on a very high level, and their spiritual battle was very fine. This resulted in a precarious position, that as long as there was no semblance of a bribe, they would not succumb to their natural bias. However, precisely because they were so great, if they were judging a case that involved even a small semblance of a bribe, the impure spiritual power inherent therein could poison their purity and prevent them from judging the case properly. This was why they felt it was necessary to back off from judging the case.]

But how great is the destruction and darkness when one permits himself to suspect the innocent in a place that the Torah has sanctioned them to judge and give halachic ruling. Included in all this is the way people generally behave in matters that occur every day. We find that the the teachings of Mussar are extremely stringent in regards to destructive character flaws, and they exhort us in a fiery manner not to allow ourselves to place guilt on others, even in thought, and certainly not in speech. This is so, even if the matter is true, and certainly if the matter is false. And if the one who is ridiculed is a Torah scholar, then such an act is included in the concept of embarrassing a Torah scholar, and he is considered a heretic. This whole matter revolves around a mistaken understanding of a halachic ruling, since it is an open halachic ruling that even the most wise are not free from bias. Therefore the person says to himself, “What have I done wrong if I say that he came out with an incorrect judgment as a result of his bias? It’s a law of nature, and my statement does not in any way detract from the wise person’s honor!” This type of warped logic is akin to someone who has a barrel of wine, and throws away the wine in order to preserve the barrel!

Let us take an example of this in order to get a clear picture in our minds, of the type of quarrel that is involved in choosing a Rabbi as a communal leader. Each person finds some fault with the candidates chosen by anyone else. It would be appropriate for them to listen to the decision of the Gedolim (great sages) of the generation. And if the decision of the wise one will not be accepted because of the stubbornness of the ignorant, it could be said that their ‘intentional sin is as if it was done unintentionally.’ In truth, they recognize their sin, yet they are not used to making their desires subservient to their intellect. In any event, the result is tremendously destructive. They believe they have chosen the correct path, and that their Good Inclination is guiding their judgment. They are convinced that their very judgment is the epitome of wisdom and intellect, as if they had judged the matter in a measured way, with great seriousness. They have produced a clever ruling with no need to ask the great sage of the generation for his input, for certainly our sage is no greater than the sages in the Gemara in Kesuvos who did not trust themselves to judge. They believe that the great sage would certainly be biased in this matter; he prefers Rav so and so because… Here we have one joke pushing away a thousand rebukes, and they serve idolatry in good conscience, and call their falsehood the will of the Torah.

All this is because they did not base their Mussar (ethical teachings) in Halacha. Those versed in Halacha notice a question. The gemara in Kesuvos notes that the two sages chose the judges who would preside over the case in their stead. If indeed they had a significant bias, they should not have been the ones to choose the new judge, because it is quite common that the litigants can not agree on who the judge should be. Choosing this judge could therefore be to one person’s advantage and to the other’s detriment. Someone who is biased should therefore completely distance himself from choosing the judge! From the fact that this is not so, we learn that a bias does not disqualify one from choosing judges, as the Rama says (ibid siman 7:67). Certainly, the wisest in the generation is not disqualified from choosing a Rabbi or communal leader as a result of his bias, and this is included in the concept of a ruling [which we said previously that the Torah gives sanction to the scholar despite his bias]. The result is that people are involved in the bitter sin of saying, “I have not sinned,” and they destroy the foundations of the Torah. The natural result is that they fabricate biases that never crossed the mind of the wise person. This mistake in understanding is akin to an intentional transgression.

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