And you shall come to the Leviim/Kohanim and to the judge who will be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they will tell you the words of judgment… you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left. (Devarim 17:9-11)
Either right or left: Even if this judge tells you that right is left, and that left is right. How much more so, if he tells you that right is right, and left is left! — Rashi
The Torah tells us explicitly that one should seek out advice and life solutions with the help of scholars who are saturated with Torah knowledge and values. We lack both the knowledge and objectivity to make the correct decision in many matters. One of my teachers told me recently that Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Greenwald zl. had said, “There is nothing more dangerous than someone who does not have a Rebbe.” If we are driving in life without a GPS then it is easy to get lost and stuck. Again, the Torah emphasizes the need to nullify one’s own way of perceiving the matter to the decision of Daas Torah, even if they tell you left is right and right is left, to do as they say. Don’t take their opinion lightly.
As the Butler told Pharaoh, “Es Chatai Ani Mazkir HaYom” – “I am mentioning my sin today.” Here I am pontificating as if from an ivory tower but I had to learn this lesson the hard way. When my wife and I were just married a few months later our car broke down. We needed a new one. Not a brand new one. That was beyond our means. We went on a search for a solid and reliable used car. I don’t remember how we came upon this dealer, an elderly man in a nearby neighborhood, but he showed us a car that was more than 10 years old but only had 50,000 miles. He told us it was driven by a little old lady on Sundays. I asked him if I could test-drive it but he said that he could not allow anyone else to drive it on the road because of insurance reasons and so he took my wife and I on the local roads, racing and then stopping abruptly. We told him we would think about it for 24 hours. In the meantime, I decided to consult with one of my Rebbeim, someone steeped in Torah wisdom and rich with worldly experience.
He asked me right away, “Did you test drive the car?” I told him, “No! The man said that he couldn’t but he drove us around and it felt good!” He immediately responded emphatically, “He didn’t let you drive it!? I have a Rashi in Chumash! Don’t buy it!” 24 hours passed and we didn’t see any other good options that were affordable and we bought the car. I picked up the car and started driving to Westchester County to my mother’s house to meet up with my wife so we could drive back together in our “new” vehicle. As I was driving, right away, I sensed something wrong.
While on the highway it felt like I was dragging a dead deer underneath. Then I looked at the odometer to check the mileage and something remarkable, maybe miraculous, probably criminal was happening. The numbers were going backwards. The mileage was becoming less. The car was getting younger. When I got to my mother’s house, I noticed that the numbers themselves were all scarred and uneven. Someone had obviously removed the cover and tampered with the mileage using a screwdriver.
We came back to Monsey and I went to my Rebbe to ask what I should do. He said to me with wonderment, “You bought the car!? You’re the second one this week who didn’t listen. Let this be a lesson! Rebbeshe Gelt! (The cost of the lesson)
I had a friend who looked like a DA and I asked him to see if he could negotiate an undoing of the sale for me with the old man and he was successful. I got my money back but I learned a lesson. Years later I bumped into that Rashi my Rebbe mentioned. It’s on the verse, “And the matter pleased me; so, I took twelve men from you, one man for each tribe”. (Devarim 1:23)
Rashi explains with a parable. Moshe agreed to send the spies because like someone who is looking to sell his donkey will allow the purchaser to ride it under all conditions then perhaps, they will trust that he is not hiding anything and they will buy it without even testing it. The implication is that if he doesn’t let them test ride the donkey then there is reason to suspect he is hiding something.
Knowing that Rashi does not, now, a Rebbe make. There is so much more we don’t know.
Photo credit: Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center