Rabbi Herschel Shachter
Rabbi Herschel Schachter

All Men Are Created Equal

The Torah, in describing Korach's revolt against the authority of Moshe, states that Korach argued that "the entire nation is equally holy", i.e. they were all present at Mt. Sinai and all received the same Torah directly from Hakodosh Baruch Hu. Why, Korach asked, should Moshe alone be the final authority on all halachic matters? Shouldn't each individual have the right to interpret the Torah according to his own understanding?

This attitude of Korach is not unique to him alone. Any intelligent human being wants others to respect his intelligence, and prefers to maintain his independence in making decisions that affect him. People do not like being subservient to others.

According to the tradition recorded in the Talmud (Shabbos 88a), at the occasion of Ma'amad Har Sinai G-d had to force the Torah upon the Jewish people by threatening to bury them alive if they did not accept it (Shemos 19:17). The commentaries have great difficulty with this statement. The Torah seems to say explicitly that the entire Jewish nation accepted the Torah at Har Sinai out of their own free will (Shemos 24:7). Why did G-d have to force it upon them?

The Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach) suggests that perhaps the two passages referred to above correspond to the two parts of the Torah. The people were prepared to accept the Torah Shebiksav, as this comes directly from G-d; man does not find it that humiliating to humble himself before G-d. The Jews were not that keen on accepting the Torah Shebeal Peh, which includes much rabbinic input, and whose main principle is "Lo mesora hakosuv ella lechachomim" (Chagigah 18a). This aspect of Torah dictates that one person's view is binding upon another, i.e., your opinion counts more than mine. This concept is a very bitter pill to swallow. The Jewish people, who had just gained their freedom from Egypt, were not yet prepared to accept the rabbis' role in developing the Torah Shebeal Peh. Therefore, Hakodosh Baruch Hu had to force the Torah Shebeal Peh upon them.

Many generations later, after the miracle of Purim occurred, the rabbis instituted the first mitzvah midirabanon, of reading the megillah. At that time, according to tradition of the Talmud, Bnei Yisroel accepted anew the oral Torah; this time out of their own free will. The rabbis of that generation, the Anshei Kneses Hagedolah, established the texts of blessings and prayers and standardized the observance of the mitzvos. The Seder Olam Zutta remarks that after the passing of the prophets Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi, prophecy terminated (until the return of Eliyahu before the coming of Moshiach), and a new period began. Hence forth we had to "bend our ear, and listen to the words of the chachomim". This passage apparently refers to this new period where Bnei Yosroel had accepted the authority of the rabbis, and therefore the Torah Shebeal Peh was able to develop much more than ever before. This acceptance was the rejection of Korach's position that Judaism be "every - man's religion", that each person who learned Torah should be entitled to his own opinion. The nation as a whole had officially accepted the authority of the chachomim to develop the Torah Shebeal Peh .

We sometimes hear from religious people in our own circles that since Rav Soloveitchik has passed away, there is no one around to whom they can refer their shaalos. Many of those people use the passing of the Rav as an excuse to ignore the piskei halacha of contemporary poskim. They elect to make their own halachic decisions, justifying themselves by arguing that everyone in our generation is entitled to express their opinions equally, and all have equal authority. This was Korach's view, who stated that "the entire nation is holy", we all learned Torah together, and "all men were created equal". The Rav himself spoke out explicitly against such an attitude (See Reflections of the Rav, Volume One, Chapter 13).

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