You shall come to the Kohanim, the Levites, and to the judge who will
in those days; you shall inquire and they will tell you the word of the
judgment. You shall do according to the word that they will tell you, from
that place that HASHEM will choose, and you should be careful to do
according to everything they will teach you. According to the teaching
that they teach you and the judgment that they will say to you, shall you
do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or
left. (Devarim 17:9-11)
Right or left: Even if they say that your right is left and your left is
right. Even more so if they tell you that your right is right and your
left is left. (Rashi)
What is meant by being confused between right and left? A child knows the
difference. Why should we need sages great in Torah to tell us such simple
things that my four year daughter can figure out?
Here’s an amazing story I heard twenty years ago. A young yeshiva student
took a job teaching in a local Hebrew Day School. With all his idealism
and fresh enthusiasm he started to install in addition to the curriculum
basic laws of Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. One of the parents
most prominent on the school board asked her son with genuine curiosity
what he had learned that day. He explained that the new rebbe had told
them that when putting on shoes in the morning one is required to first
put on the right shoe and then the left shoe. When tying the shoes a right
handed person ties the left shoe first and a left handed person ties the
right shoe first. The mother was shocked and angered. How dare he pollute
our dear children’s minds with these antiquated superstitions? He should
rather teach good Jewish values.
She called a board meeting and arranged that this young teacher should be
dismissed. Her son finished Hebrew Day School up until the 8th grade and
went on to public high school. Later he was accepted at an Ivy League
college. In college he was taking pre-med courses and was struggling in
chemistry. He managed with the help of a lab partner and then there was
chemistry between he and his female companion who as it turned out was not
Jewish. He told his parents that he was in love and wanted to marry this
girl. Not wanting to interfere with his happiness they agreed and a big
wedding was planned.
The night the wedding was to take place he was readying himself in his
hotel room for the elegant black tie affair. After fitting the bow tie and
the cummerbund he now turned his attention to the shiny pair of new shoes
in front of him. Before stepping in he reminded himself that this is an
important occasion and a dusty old memory began to stir in the back of his
mind about which shoe to put on first. Then the he remembered, “We put on
the right shoe first because that’s the foot that leads towards…Mitzvos!
MITZVOS! What am I about to do?! My children won’t even be Jewish if I
follow through with this. I’m the end of the chain. I’ve forgotten all
about Mitzvos!” Then with Samson’s strength, believe it or not, he called
off the wedding.
That night a phone call reached his rebbe from so many years earlier. The
young man reminded him that he was the one whose mother had caused him to
lose his job. The rebbe said, “I’ve forgiven you! Things worked out fine!
I’m happy where I am!” The young man related what had just happened and
tearfully told him, “I really called to thank you for saving my life.”
Classically, right and left are not absolute directions but rather
expressions of relative strength and weakness or of ranking priorities. We
may be all too tempted to ridicule and dismiss sagely standards, “What
difference does it make anyway which shoe we put on first?” However, if we
are told that something that seems to us a trivial point is really very
important and we defer to their wisdom, oddly left is made right and if
the shoe fits much better...