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Following the Rabbi's Lead

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

In Israel, religious political parties generally consult spiritual leaders on a wide range of issues. To a modern person, it seems odd that spiritual giants should be able to formulate opinions on matters of state when their primary occupation is Torah study, in their "ivory towers." Yet, Judaism does accept the notion of "Daas Torah," loosely translated as "A Torah Opinion," as a fundamental element of an observant lifestyle.

What exactly is this elusive concept? Why is it considered virtuous to consult Torah leaders on issues that would appear at first thought to be outside the realm of their concerns?

The solution to these questions will also help elucidate a Rashi in Parshat Pekudei.

In Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1:6, it states: "One should establish a relationship with a Rabbi and one should acquire a friend." No matter how learned or how great or how mature, an individual can never live a productive life on one's own. A person needs these two relationships with others in order to function in a healthy fashion.

One of these relationships is having a Rabbi.

When I establish a relationship with a Rabbi, I learn to subordinate myself. I accept the Rabbi as my superior and nullify my opinion before his. It is obvious that if I am lacking Torah knowledge that I should consult a Rabbi. But I should also ask him concerning matters that do not directly seem to involve knowledge of Torah.

A Rabbi who has studied the Torah in depth has spent many hours and expended great efforts to discover what God wants from us in this world. This is because the very definition of the word "Torah" is God's Instructions for Living. As a result of the Rabbi and Torah scholar's mastery of the Torah, he trains his mind to think in terms of "What would the Torah demand? What would God expect of a person in the given situation which he faces?"

In this way, a decision is based on an attempt at discovering what God wants from us and not merely what we desire.

This is the explanation of the concept of Daas Torah and is why religious political parties, and many Torah observant people, always consult Torah leaders before making major decisions.

We now have a better understanding for what Rashi means in Shemot 38:22. Betzalel, the lead architect of the construction of the Tabernacle, had presented his own idea for the order of the different stages of the construction which Moshe had heard directly from God.

Moshe then told Betzalel, "Now I know why your name is Betzalel! You must have dwelled in God's shadow - B'tzel E-l - which is the meaning of your name!" Betzalel had used his own mind to think of an idea which was exactly the idea God had planned as well. Betzalel achieved the level of Daas Torah, figuring out what God would want in a particular situation.

The concept and acceptance of Daas Torah is also the key to the Jewish people's repentance in the Purim story.

As recorded in Talmud Megillah 12b and Midrash Esther Rabbah 7:18, there was a dispute between Mordechai, the leader, and the rest of the Jewish nation.

Achashveirosh, the Persian king, had invited the Jews, among all nations, to his grandiose feast and party celebration. The Jews felt that for political reasons, they had to go for if they did not it would mean disaster and danger facing Achashveirosh's wrath. They felt that to avoid the party would be an insult to the king. Their logic was compelling.

Mordechai told them that the lewdness and immorality that would be present at the party forbids Jews to go.

They told Mordechai that if they followed his advice, they would be lost. Lo and behold, they went to the feast and it indeed brought prosperity to them for a while. They turned to Mordechai and said, "We were right, you were wrong. Thank God we didn't listen to you."

Then a Haman, with his plan to exterminate the Jewish nation, came into existence. (The Talmud states that this was due to the sin of attending Achashveirosh's party. Megilah 12a) And Mordechai refuses to bow down to him. They came to Mordechai and said "Murderer! Bow down to him or we will all die because of you!" Lo and behold, they were right. Haman was angered and the genocide decree came.

Who was right? Mordechai, the old and out-of-touch Torah scholar, the ivory tower dweller, the old and impractical man, or the masses of people who knew the ways of the world? By all nature, the Jews should have turned against Mordechai. Everything they said came true. They saw they were right. They should have thrown him out! But instead they come back and say, "Rebbe, tell us what to do" and from that comes the salvation.

What happened? What made them come back to Mordechai? They began to repent and finally realized the significance of Daas Torah. They knew that they needed a deliverance and the only way to achieve that was to turn back to God and those righteous individuals who are closest to God.

It is only through the logic and direction of Torah and the Torah giant that salvation can come. We think we see but we do not see. The reality was that Haman's decree came as a result of sins and not politics. Our logic which seems so strong is very often influenced by personal bias. The Torah scholar's mind does not have these biases and can access God's true will.

This doesn't mean that Rabbis are infallible. It is of course possible for Rabbis to make mistakes. But we also know that even the world's best doctors are human and also make mistakes. That doesn't prevent us from seeking out their medical advice and expertise because following their advice remains the best course of procedure in trying to heal an illness. So too, God expects us to try our best to make decisions based upon His will, and asking a Rabbi, a Spiritual Doctor, knowing fully that Rabbis are human and can err, is part of that process.

No, we shouldn't be asking Rabbis what we should make for supper tonight nor should we run to inquire about every little decision in our lives. But when it comes to the truly significant issues that concern us, we should think in terms of what God would want us to do, and asking a knowledgeable Rabbi is the closest we can come to asking God Himself.

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