In The Eyes Of The Beholder
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Judges and officers you will set up in all your gates... (Devarim 16:18)
There are many commentaries that explain this posuk on several levels, one
of which is the level of the individual acting as a judge in his own
life. For, life is one judgment after another; correct judgments lead to
growth and eternal reward in the World-to-Come, whereas bad judgments lead
to just the opposite.
The Talmud teaches, advises, and warns:
A judge only has what his eyes see. (Bava Basra 131a)
In other words, if a judge is a prophet, then he can know that which has
been presented to him, and that which has been omitted. However, if he has
yet to achieve the high level of prophecy, then his decision can only be
based upon the presentation of the facts before him. Yes, he can receive
help from Heaven, but still, it is not the same as prophecy.
Oftentimes, the presentation of the facts is not entirely dependent upon
others over whom we have little or no control. The information we may need
to make an 'informed' and correct decision about, whether in a legal case
or in our own personal lives, may exist 'out there,' available to those who
seek it. Knowing this can lead to knowledge of the necessary information,
which can lead to an entirely different vantage point in life, as the
following account portrays.
There is a story at the end of Tractate Makkos of Talmud Bavli (Babylonian
Talmud) that, like many others, says much more than it seems to be saying.
Chazal (Chachamim Zichronam L'Brochah) were unbelievably good at layering
meaning in what they taught. The account goes like this:
It happened again that they (Rabban Gamliel, Rebi Elazar ben Azariah, Rebi
Yehoshua, and Rebi Akiva) were going to Jerusalem. When they arrived at
Har HaTzofim (Mt. Scopus), they tore their clothing (as a sign of mourning
over the destruction of the Temple, which could be seen from there). When
they reached the Temple Mount and saw a fox coming out from the place where
the Holy of Holies had been, they began to cry; Rebi Akiva laughed.
They asked him, "Akiva, why do you laugh?"
He answered them, "Why do you cry?"
They said, "If the prophecy concerning the place which the posuk says, 'The
stranger who approaches (the Holy of Holies) will be put to death'
(Bamidbar 1:51), is now fulfilled that, 'For the mountain of Tzion, which
is desolate, the foxes walk upon it' (Eichah 5:18), should we not cry?"
He said, "That is precisely why I laugh! It says, 'I will take faithful
witness to record, Uriah HaKohen and Zechariah...' (Yeshayahu 8:2). Why is
Uriah mentioned together with Zechariah? The former was from the time of
the First Temple and the latter was from the time of the Second Temple! It
is, therefore, to make the prophecy of Zechariah dependent upon the
prophecy of Uriah. Uriah said, 'Because of you Tzion shall be plowed as a
field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps' (Michah 3:12). Zechariah said,
'There shall still sit old men and old women in the streets of Jerusalem'
(Michah 8:4). Now, until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled I was very
concerned that the prophecy of Zechariah might not be fulfilled. However,
now that I have seen the fulfillment of Uriah's prophecy, it is clear that
the prophecy of Zechariah will come to be."
Having heard this, they told him, "Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you
have consoled us!" (Makkos 24b)
Huh? Just like that? With so short an explanation Rebi Akiva succeeded in
turning his colleagues around 180 degrees? Yes. And, if you know what he
said you'll understand why.
Do not take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and
distorts the words of the righteous. (Devarim 16:19)
This is true even if it is done unconsciously. There is nothing new about
bribes blinding the eyes of the unwise or distorting the words of the
evil. The novelty here is that even great people who only want to do the
truthful and righteous thing can stumble when inappropriate relationships
develop, whether people are involved or just ideas.
These four great rabbis were from the phenomenal era of the Tannaim, the
rabbis who authored the mishnayos, upon which the Talmud and halachah are
based. They were great and powerful people for whom the performance of
miracles, including reviving the dead, was second nature.
However, they were also the rabbis who had to bear witness to some of the
worst destruction in Jewish history at the hands of the Roman Empire. As
the story portrays, they were forced to walk upon the ruins of Jerusalem
and suffer the pain of seeing the place to which they made regular
pilgrimages completely destroyed, knowing that the Divine Presence had
since left for higher spiritual planes.
Upon one of their journeys, they found themselves within view of the Temple
Mount. As if to "add salt to the wound," at that moment they witnessed a
fox emerge from the very place that the Kohen Gadol used to perform the
holiest service on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. The pain of
such a profanation, for three of the four great rabbis, could only result
in more tears and added mourning.
Who would not cry at a painfully depressing moment such as that one?
However, Rebi Akiva laughed. It is one thing not to cry, Rebi Akiva, but to
laugh? We find nothing funny about a fox stomping all over the holiest
part of the entire planet, but obviously you do. Would you mind sharing
your perspective on the matter?
Equally interesting and elusive is Rebi Akiva's evasive answer.
They ask, "Akiva, why do you laugh?" to which he answers, "Why do you cry?"
Wait a second, Rebi Akiva, we're asking the questions here, not
you. Crying, as you well know, is a logical and Torah-based response to
our situation at hand; laughing is not. Therefore, we are justified in
questioning your behavior, but you are NOT justified in questioning
ours. So, again, we ask, "What made you laugh at this tragic scene?"
"That's exactly my point," Rebi Akiva is saying. "The very thing that has
made you cry has made me laugh. And, if you would go past the pshat of the
matter, if you would delve beyond the surface of what your physical eyes
perceive, you would see my point and laugh as well. You would see that
what you perceive as exile and devastation, is really the beginning of
redemption and the rebuilding of the Jewish people and Eretz Yisroel. It
may take some time to see it take concrete form, but began it has."
To which his colleagues immediately and unanimously answered, "Akiva, you
have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!" - Not just once, but
twice, as if to emphasize the depth to which his vision consoled them.
Four rabbis, one vision, two perceptions: This is not just a simple case
of "Two Jews, and three opinions," because in the end they all agree with
Rebi Akiva's version of reality. Rather, this is a case of one Torah, and
four levels of understanding. The deeper the level, the more accurate is
the perception of G-d's Providence. And, the more accurate the perception
of G-d's Providence is, the better with which to determine our role in
fulfilling HIS purpose for creation, as we will now see.
Righteousness, righteousness you must pursue... (Devarim 16:20)
In terms of courts, we must try to establish the most righteous courts as
possible. The Talmud does not mince words when it comes to speaking about
the damage non-righteous courts cause, to the Jewish people and to the
world in general.
On a personal level, it means you must run after righteousness. It means
that if you do not pursue the correct perspective and seek it out, more
than likely, it will not seek you out either. The result will be an
illusion about life and grossly mistaken understandings about the events of
For example, consider the following and how it might apply to our present
day situation, which millions of Jews today tend to only view through the
lens of modern-day politics. Writes Rabbi Hillel Mishkelov, in the name of
the Vilna Gaon, about 200 years ago (the brackets are my comments):
"The purpose in our bringing about the ingathering of the exiles [from
around the world back to Eretz Yisroel] is to set up faithful people for
the sake of the unification of the two moshiachs (i.e., Moshiach Ben Yosef
and Moshiach Ben Dovid) in the gates of Jerusalem. This is in order to
return the Divine Presence to bring about the redemption, the true
redemption and sanctification of G-d's Name [the very fact that the Jewish
people have to live in exile reduces the world's belief in G-d, and
therefore profanes His holy Name]. According to our teacher, the Vilna
Gaon, z"l, we can bring about, with the help of G-d and through these
strong people, these two moshiachs, and to learn well all the levels and
their purposes in practical terms. [In other words, according to the Vilna
Gaon, redemption was, is, something that must be triggered through our
actions below and not the result of our present waiting game.] The general
purpose of the two moshiachs, Moshiach Ben Yosef and Moshiach Ben Dovid,
throughout all the generations has been to protect and fight against the
three 'heads' of the K'lipos [literally, 'encrustations,' and the source of
spiritual impurity and the principle spiritual opponent of the Jewish
people], Eisav, Yishmael, and the Erev Rav (Mixed Multitude). [From the
moment Moshe Rabbeinu took the Mixed Multitude out of Egypt with the Jewish
people, they have been the source of one spiritual downfall after
another. Though they have become more covert in history, they are still
the single greatest enemy the Jewish people struggle against.] The
specific role of Moshiach Ben Yosef is against Eisav who is the k'lipah of
the left [within the realm of the sefiros on the side of impurity], the
main purpose of Moshiach Ben Dovid is against Yishmael, the k'lipah of the
right [within the realm of the sefiros on the side of impurity], and
together they go against Eisav and Yishmael who are the ox and the donkey
from the side of impurity [all nations are symbolized by specific animals
that share their main trait]. The joining of Eisav and Yishmael is the
result of Armelius, the sar (heavenly angel) of the Erev Rav, who are able
to destroy Israel and the entire world, may G-d have mercy. The main drive
of the Erev Rav is to unify Eisav and Yishmael and to separate the two
moshiachs. Therefore, our main service and battle is to break and to
remove the strength of the Erev Rav, the k'lipah of Armelius the Evil, from
Israel; the Erev Rav is our greatest enemy, the one who separates the two
moshiachs. The k'lipah of the Erev Rav works only through deception and
roundabout ways [like a magician who fools his audience by giving them the
impression he is doing one thing when in fact he is deceptively doing
something else]. Therefore, the war against the Erev Rav is the most
difficult and bitterest of all [since it is VERY hard to know what they are
planning and how much damage they plan to cause. On the surface they can
appear peace-loving and docile when in fact their end goal is just the
opposite with respect to the Jewish people and Torah ideals]. We must
strengthen ourselves for this war, and anyone who does not participate in
the battle against the Erev Rav becomes, de facto, a partner with the
k'lipah of the Erev Rav, and was better off not being born in the first
place. [Hence, there is not neutral ground in this central historic
battle; if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the
problem!] The main strength of the Erev Rav is in the gates of Jerusalem,
and specifically at the entrance to the city... [which helps us understand
why Jerusalem remains to be one of the most divisive issues when it comes
to making peace.]" (Kol HaTor, Chapter 2, Section 2, Letter 'bais')
The only question is, who IS the Erev Rav? You can't fight against an
enemy you can't recognize! Are they Jewish? Are they gentile? According
to some, they seem to be the former. According to others, them seem to be
the latter. However, according to everyone, we shall see, b"H, they are
VERY problematic and set up the final showdown of history.
The footnote to the above quote says:
"Regarding the k'lipah [of the Erev Rav], the Zohar says: On the right
side of Avraham, the level of Chesed, revenge will be taken against
Yishmael and his appointed leader [everything in creation has a
corresponding spiritual counterpart - "zu l'umus zu" - which is what
creates the relationships manifested in the physical world itself]; on the
left of Yitzchak, the level of fear (i.e., Gevurah), revenge will be taken
against Eisav and his appointed leader, through the two moshiachs, the one
from the right being Moshiach Ben Dovid and the one from the left being
Moshiach Ben Yosef... "until the coming of Shiloh." (Bereishis 49:10;
Shiloh has the gematria of 'Moshe'), [but ultimately through] the 'faithful
shepherd' on the level of 'Tifferes Yisroel' [the level of
Ya'akov]. Through them revenge will be taken against Eisav and Yishmael
and the Erev Rav, because the Erev Rav is a combination of Eisav and
Yishmael just as Ya'akov is a combination of Avraham and Yitzchak."
Woe. That is more than a mouthful. It is a lifetime worth of learning, of
moving from level to level of Torah understanding. It incorporates
learning Torah not just for the sake of knowing the halachah, but also for
the sake of understanding Jewish history, G-d's Providence, and HIS
expectations of our involvement.
A person who possesses sophisticated secular information and responds
accordingly is said to be savvy. In the realm of Torah, he is called a
true 'chacham' - 'wise person.' The days of the crusades and pogroms at
the hands of Eisav seem to be over (G-d willing), perhaps coming to an
ignominious end with the Holocaust, a faded memory in the Western world.
The problem with Eisav has always been that he is a charmer. Whether it is
the way he dresses or speaks, or seems to act culturally refined, somehow
we Jews get lulled into trusting him, only to get burned royally in the
end. Perhaps that is why Chazal saw fit to make it clear from the start
that, no matter what you want to believe about Eisav, "it is a well-known
'law' that Eisav hates Ya'akov." (Sifri, BeHa'alosecha, 69).
Since 1948 (and even before), we have been battling against Yishmael, in
one form or another. You have to hand it to the Arabs: They make no bones
about their feelings for us, thus making it easy NOT to trust them. After
five wars and who knows how many skirmishes, with G-d's Divine protection,
we have held our ground, militarily, politically, and even in the PR
All of a sudden, the situation has unraveled, and we find ourselves
embroiled in a conflict that seems to draw from both Yishmael and
Eisav. What to make of it? No answers in the world of pshat, so we sit
and wait to see whither the conflict will go. However, according to the
Vilna Gaon, that is tantamount to partnership with the wrong side, a very
bad move spiritually (and ultimately, physically as well).
What to do? How to judge the situation?
"A judge only has what his eyes see."
Treat your eyes and your mind to a little fact-finding mission that goes
beyond the realm of the simple understanding of Torah, and watch the BIG
PICTURE emerge before your very eyes. And, don't be surprised if your
priorities in life change.