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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Can Gedolim Make Mistakes?

Gedolim

How can it be that outstanding Torah scholars in Europe, before the Holocaust, and even after it started, were against the Zionist movement and told their congregations not to uproot themselves from where they were and flee to Eretz Yisrael? Even today, there are Torah leaders who tell their followers that the time has not come to go to Israel, even though Hashem has already gathered millions of His children to the Holy Land, miraculously transformed the reborn Jewish Nation in Israel into one of the most advanced and powerful countries on the globe, and made Israel the Torah center of the world. The question arises – can Gedolim err?

The Torah testifies about Korach and his followers that they were outstanding Torah scholars, stating: “They were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown” (Bamidbar, 16:2), yet they made a terrible mistake in their machloket against Moshe and Aharon. The lovers of exile, Datan and Abiram, even went so far as to call Egypt, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” the very special expression the Torah bestows upon Eretz Yisrael. For their own personal reasons, they turned the words of the Torah upside down. This is like modern-day Diasporians who maintain that America is the Promised Land!

Last week, we once again learned about the tragic mistake of the Spies who were the leaders of the tribes, the heads of the Sanhedrin, the outstanding Torah scholars of their time. With all their Torah stature, their posak halacha in preferring the golus over Eretz Yisrael was a terrible mistake which led to the death of the entire generation in the wilderness and paved the way for the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

The universally accepted book, “Mesillat Yesharim,” explains that the Spies were concerned for their personal honor, knowing that a new type of brave and multi-faceted leader would be needed when the Jews entered the Promised Land (Ch.19 on Saintliness. See also Zohar, Parshat Shelach.) One of the greatest Torah giants ever, the Vilna Gaon, teaches that the sin of the Spies returns to haunt the nation in every generation, stating, “Many of the sinners in this great sin of ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also many guardians of Torah, will not recognize of understand that they have been sucked into the sin of the Spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the Torah giants of the world, the Early and Later Torah Authorities” (Kol HaTor, Ch.5).

The fourth chapter of the Book of Vayikra deals with special kinds of sin offerings. Along with the offerings of a Kohen Gadol who sins, and a king who sins, are the laws governing a sin offering for the whole congregation (Vayikra, 4:13). The tractate Horiot explains this as being a case where the majority of the Great Sanhedrin makes a mistake, and because of their error in deciding the law, a majority of the congregation transgresses. Here, the Torah itself recognizes the possibility of the majority of Gedolim making a mistake.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, z’tzal, Rosh Yeshiva at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was often asked how could Gedolei Yisrael could make a mistake in such a serious matter as the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel? He discussed the question with his students in his usual straightforward manner, in spite of the reverence he held, and taught his students to feel, for our Sages, and for all Torah scholars. However, he wanted the generation that was rebuilding the Land of Israel to understand that even great Talmidei Chachamim can make mistakes:

“When one believes that the Redemption of Israel, and the coming of Mashiach, have to appear miraculously from out of the heavens, in a way which transcends the normal order of life, then one fails to see the hand of Hashem in all the events in the world. The Redemption is not obligated to appear with obvious miracles, nor does it have to be absolutely natural. Both miracles and natural historical development belong to the Almighty’s domain. The Rambam explains that the appearance of Mashiach is also a natural historical process, which is revealed by the ingathering of the Jewish People to Israel, and even through wars (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 12:1-4). The Redemption of the Jewish People which comes to pass gradually in a natural way, as we have experienced in our time, is also from the Almighty” (See the book “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Ch. 8).

Rav Kook continues:

“Certainly, the Redemption hasn’t yet reached completion. Many Torah leaders backed away from the Zionist cause, and even fought against it, because they wanted the Redemption (Geula) to be instantly complete. They attached themselves to the idea that the Geula had to be completely kosher from its inception, as opposed to being a gradual process, unfolding through many individuals, organizations, wars, political agreements, and the hard manual labor of making the desert bloom, in order to bring the Redemption toward its final fulfillment. They couldn’t accept a Redemption which spread out in many directions, including secular movements replete with apikorsim and free thinkers who had thrown off the yoke of the Torah. Nor could they come to terms with the Geula’s unfolding in natural, down-to-earth events.

“When the Rebbe of Belz came on aliyah, he said, ‘We realize now that we erred in our estrangement from Eretz Yisrael.’ Other Gedolim also repented over their shortsightedness. If this repentance had occurred 30 years before, preceding the Holocaust, prompting the mass aliyah of devout God-fearing Jews, the spiritual situation is Israel would be very different today.

“The beginning of the Zionist awakening was filled with uncertainty, but today there aren’t any doubts. We see eye to eye the acts of Hashem revealed in the ingathering of the exiles and the incredible rebuilding of the Nation in the Land. It has become increasingly clear that those who supported the return to Zion were right and that the halacha is according to those who are sharper in the depth and illumination of the truthfulness of this great matter.”

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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22 Responses to “Can Gedolim Make Mistakes?”

  1. shmuelik says:

    This is chutzpah! The Gemorah states that we are to wait in golus and not go up to Eretz Yisroel by force against the nations until Moshiach comes.The Tzionim and the chofshim brought us the Holocaust. The biggest golus today is in EY. How can you publish this dribble?????

  2. Yori Yanover says:

    We published this “dribble” (you’re sure you didn’t mean “drivel”?) because it makes sense. You can cherry pick the gemorah for citations to fit anyone’s opinion, but in the end the natural place for a Jewish person is in Eretz Israel.

    The rebbes who could have urged their flock in Poland to pick up and leave, and didn’t, can be counted among the causes for the carnage a great deal more than the Zionists who actually did something to prepare a shelter for the remnants.

    The Belzer rebbe had a lot to answer for, as did the Gerrer rebbe, whose Polish chassidim were eager to come to Palestine in the 1930s and needed just a strong urging. Most of the rebbes, save for the Rizhiners, dropped the ball in the 30s. Now there’s a dribble!

  3. shmuelik says:

    kook let his enthusiam blind him. Name one other Godol that backed zionism.

  4. Jojo Cruse says:

    R u kidding ,thay made ,and thay keep makeing ,

  5. Jojo Cruse says:

    Thay would rather die with there hasidim than saying thay made a mistake !! Thay dont want משיח to come

  6. Torah Qanda says:

    very nice.thanks.

  7. Tzvi Fishman says:

    To name a few: Moshe Rabainu, Yehoshua Ben Nun, David HaMelech, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Rambam, the Ramban, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, Rashi, The Gaon of Vilna, the Arizal, Rabbi Yosef Caro, The Or HaChaim HaKodosh, Rebbe Nachman, the Chofetz Chaim….

  8. Yori Yanover says:

    The Ohaley Yaakov was a great lover of the Zionists and the Chalutzim. The entire Sadigor and Husiatin dynasties were pro-Zionist.

  9. Anastasia Klein says:

    I like this.

  10. Ben Seligson says:

    I disagree with your premise about Gedolim not making mistakes. Our forefathers (Neveeay Hashem) made many mistakes. Genesis is replete with these errors. Remember the gemara that says "echad hamarbeh veached hamamit ubilvad sheyichaven leebo lashomayim. When ppl do not consider what Gd wants, it can end up in disaster.

  11. The article shares the attitude of Korach, who claimed that the laws Moshe implemented were based on personal interests, and not divine. It's true that todays gedolim do not have prophecy, but part of belief in Hashem is emunas chachomim. In our generation each person can choose his own rav, and one can choose disciples of rav Kook. But saying that all those Jews that disagree with my views are "mistaken", and their leaders are "mistaken" is slanderous, closed minded, and simply belittles G-d's chosen. We need to be encouraging each Jew to have faith in his leader, and avoid the path of Korach that sought to uproot emunas chachomim.

  12. The article shares the attitude of Korach, who claimed that the laws Moshe implemented were based on personal interests, and not divine. It's true that todays gedolim do not have prophecy, but part of belief in Hashem is emunas chachomim. In our generation each person can choose his own rav, and if the author chooses to follow a disciple of rav Kook, that's fine. But for a person to say that all Jews that disagree with my views are "mistaken", and their leaders are "mistaken" is slanderous, closed minded, and simply belittles G-d's chosen. We need to be encouraging each Jew to have faith in the leader he chose, and avoid the path of Korach that sought to uproot emunas chachomim.

  13. Ariel Weber says:

    "emunat hhakhamim" is not synonymous with "emuna behhakhamim."

    or in other words, the faithfulness that the wise have/had is not the same as giving your faithfulness to the wise.

  14. eathummus says:

    I heard this line of thinking (the article) when I was in a Rav Kook Yeshiva. However:

    -The Zionist movement was lead by those who were secular.
    -Jews sinned by not entering the Land because Moses was the highest prophet and he directed them to do so. Hertzl and his cohorts were the antithesis of Torat Moshe.
    -We don’t know who the Erev Rav is and according to the Gra, who they quote in the article, they are supposed to be the leaders of the Nation before Mashiach.
    -Hertzl didn’t circumcise his own children and wanted to initially to have Jews convert to Christianity.
    -The State of Israel hasn’t caused anti-Jewish sentiments to decreased at all, in fact has ushered in an era of new enemies.

  15. Yori Yanover says:

    Justin White — Thank you for the list. It’s been used by the Haredi establishment to cover the essential, shameful erva of the failure of its great ones, the gedolim, to save millions of Jewish lives by merely reminding them of the very useful mitzvah of making aliya to Eretz HaKodesh. Instead they told them — some explicitly so — that things would get better, lulling them into a false sense of safety.

    The Haredim cannot stomach this accusation and so they respond by pointing to how many kibbutzniks are eating bacon. No skin off my nose.

  16. Justin White says:

    I heard this line of thinking (the article) when I was in a Rav Kook Yeshiva. However:

    -The Zionist movement was lead by those who were secular.
    -Jews sinned by not entering the Land because Moses was the highest prophet and he directed them to do so. Hertzl and his cohorts were the antithesis of Torat Moshe.
    -We don't know who the Erev Rav is and according to the Gra, who they quote in the article, they are supposed to be the leaders of the Nation before Mashiach.
    -Hertzl didn't circumcise his own children and wanted to initially to have Jews convert to Christianity.
    -The State of Israel hasn't caused anti-Jewish sentiments to decreased at all, in fact has ushered in an era of new enemies.

  17. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    This article is pretty dumb, why doesn't anyone tell the truth about the original philosophy of zionism? The fact that anti-judaism zionists did not get what they wanted and judaism at least partially won out over secular assimilationist goals is not proof of the wisdom of secular zionism nor the foolishness of rabbis, rather than making the outrageous claim that anti-zionist rabbis are like korach, they should say the early zionists were like bilaam, they meant it for evil but hashem made it for good.

  18. Charlie Hall says:

    ' But for a person to say that all Jews that disagree with my views are "mistaken", and their leaders are "mistaken" is slanderous, closed minded, and simply belittles G-d's chosen. '

    In fact there have recently been a number of such statements from charedi gedolim in Israel.

  19. Bracha Bennett-Garland says:

    The Maharal wrote that it is better to have a corrupt Jewish government in Israel than for Israel to be under non-Jewish authority. (His commentary stated that this was to be a worst-case scenario, obviously this is not ideal).
    Regarding Hertzl, he did not convert to xtianity, and after the Dreyfus affair, made no efforts to do so. He married a Jewish woman and raised a secular family. There is a measure of heaven which is given over to those who labor on behalf of the good of Am Yisrael, which Herzl did do. He, and his family had the merit to be buried is Eretz Yisrael, even those grandchildren who had not lived here.
    New enemies. Our enemies are not new, nor was the purpose of returning to Eretz Yisrael to decrease anti-semitism. The purpose was the return itself. Here Jews can fulfill the mitzvoth in ways we cannot anywhere else. It is not about having conveniences like kosher restaurants or other frivolities. I am watching my son grow up to be proud of being a Jew and keeping mitzvoth in a way that Jews who live outside cannot. Even in America. It is the difference between being 'tolerated' in a land, and having a home.

  20. Bracha Bennett-Garland says:

    The Maharal wrote that it is better to have a corrupt Jewish government in Israel than for Israel to be under non-Jewish authority. (His commentary stated that this was to be a worst-case scenario, obviously this is not ideal).
    Regarding Hertzl, he did not convert to xtianity, and after the Dreyfus affair, made no efforts to do so. He married a Jewish woman and raised a secular family. There is a measure of heaven which is given over to those who labor on behalf of the good of Am Yisrael, which Herzl did do. He, and his family had the merit to be buried is Eretz Yisrael, even those grandchildren who had not lived here.
    New enemies. Our enemies are not new, nor was the purpose of returning to Eretz Yisrael to decrease anti-semitism. The purpose was the return itself. Here Jews can fulfill the mitzvoth in ways we cannot anywhere else. It is not about having conveniences like kosher restaurants or other frivolities. I am watching my son grow up to be proud of being a Jew and keeping mitzvoth in a way that Jews who live outside cannot. Even in America. It is the difference between being 'tolerated' in a land, and having a home.

  21. Justin White says:

    You misread my comment. Please reread what I wote!
    1-Hertl thought the solution to anti-Semitism was for Jews to convert to X-ity, then he realized it wouldn't work. This is from the Israeli Bagarut which I recorded.
    2-Egypt turned on the Jews because they stopped keeping brit-mila.
    3-I am happy about your son…the majority of Israels are secular.
    4-The Arabs were not AS AGGRESSIVE as they are now before the Zionist movement. The assimilation of Jews in Europe paralleled the rise in anti-Jewish feelings and caused secular Zionists to want to relocate Jews. Again, from the Bagarut which I can provide in mp3 form.

  22. Sam Green says:

    i agree its like thyre the pope lol

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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