`128 Real Rabbis Balance with a Careful Measure
Chananya Weissman
August 24, 2021

One of the 613 mitzvos is to follow the gezeiros and takanos of Chazal (rabbinic prohibitions and enactments), the purpose of which are to safeguard the other 612 mitzvos. This is not to be confused with the declarations of so-called “leading rabbis” reported in the media, which carry no halachic weight. Contemporary rabbis are authorized only to clarify the Torah of ancient times, not to turn traditional norms on their head or establish new gezeiros and takanos that would carry biblical force.

Chazal distinguished themselves in many ways from contemporary rabbis who presume to follow in their footsteps. Chazal were paragons of integrity, who were concerned with getting it right, not winning an argument. The Gemara has many examples of Talmudic sages retracting their opinion in light of a strong proof to the contrary. Teachers would defer to superior arguments from their students, and even ordinary people who were not scholars are recorded for posterity for making a valuable argument in the presence of the greatest sages.

In fact, our Talmudic sages would resolve challenges against their opponent in a disagreement. They were not really on different sides, after all; they were all pious, God-fearing people on the side of truth.

This is why their words will forever be studied and revered by all Torah-observant Jews. This is why the rulings of these saintly rabbis guide every aspect of our lives thousands of years later, while the decrees of mighty kings and governments are gone and forgotten with the changing of the guard. As Chazal themselves taught in Pirkei Avos (5:17), only a disagreement that is for the sake of heaven (not one's ego or an ulterior motive) will endure with respect for both sides.

One of the main hallmarks of these true rabbis, in contrast to contemporary scholars who carry the title, is careful consideration of all the ramifications of a “rabbinic intervention”. While learning a digest of the laws of Shemitta in preparation for the new year I came across a teaching from the Chazon Ish (12:9) that illustrates this wonderfully.

Chazal prohibited lending a farm instrument to an am ha'aretz (a person who is unschooled or careless about halacha) during Shemitta, since he would certainly use it for forbidden work. This would violate the Torah commandment of lifnei iver, placing an obstacle before a blind person.

However, if the instrument is normally used for permitted work as well, in which case it is not certain that the am ha'aretz intends to use it for forbidden work, one is allowed to lend it to him. This is despite the fact that it is still likely that he will use it for forbidden work; as long as there is a reasonable doubt, one can lend it to him.

As the Chazon Ish writes, this is because if one is stringent in this case, there will be an “obstacle” of taking away chesed and darchei shalom (kindness and the ways of peace). In addition, it would certainly cause an increase in hatred and strife, and many other prohibitions, which are not lighter than the prohibition we are seeking to prevent. Chazal weighed the pros and cons, and prohibited lending an instrument only when it would lead to a definite sin, but did not penalize an am ha'aretz more than that. (He cites another example from Mo'ed Katan 17A, where Chazal prohibited a parent to strike a grown child because the risk of the child striking the parent in return – a potentially capital crime – is not worth the disciplinary benefits.) This is the straight and balanced way.

Compare this painstaking calculation of benefits versus risks with the wild pronouncements of “rabbis” and other pundits in our time. They have decided (or, to be precise, had it decided for them) that most everyone must become a pin cushion for pharmaceutical companies, and that people must be tortured in increasingly cruel ways until they “voluntarily” surrender. The collateral damage of these policies is occasionally mentioned as an afterthought, only to pretend that these ramifications were anything more than a public relations nuisance for those making the policies.

In simple terms, they don't care. At all.

This bulldozer approach has filtered into the minds of those who acquiesced to their tormentors and became little tormentors as well. First they accepted that the injections were worth the risk. Then they accepted that the risks are not even consequential. Then they accepted that anyone who disagrees is evil, the cause of all our suffering, and no punishment is too great for them. There are no brakes, no boundaries, no limits. It is a game of can-you-top-this, and we're fast reaching the point of anything goes.

It is no surprise that much of the world population has bought into this, because much of the world has no objective standard of good and evil, no clear boundaries and limits for anything they believe to be “good”. What is most tragic is that so many Jews who appear to be devoted to the Torah have completely lost their bearings. They are egged on by anti-Torah political figures (some of whom pretend to be “religious”) and phony rabbis who work for the establishment and make increasingly unhinged proclamations with each passing day.

Shemitta is a very serious mitzvah. According to Chazal, one of the primary reasons the Jews were first exiled is because they did not observe Shemitta. It would be entirely understandable for Chazal to forbid lending anything to an am ha'aretz that could conceivably be used for prohibited work, in order to be most stringent with Shemitta. Instead, they prohibited only that which would definitely be used for sin, and chose to be stringent about fostering kindness and peace between relatives, friends, and neighbors.

It would be natural for one to be concerned about his am ha'aretz neighbor working the land during Shemitta, increasing the sins of the nation, and potentially causing great harm to society. It would be easy to justify ostracizing such people, or forcing them to live under constant surveillance, or locking them down in their homes for the entire year, or taking them away to camps to make absolutely sure they didn't violate Shemitta. It would be for the greater good, to protect them and us from violating Shemitta and incurring God's wrath.

Unlike the phony rabbis of today, Chazal were not unhinged maniacs. They intervened to prevent abetting someone in a definite prohibition, and otherwise encouraged people to continue to be good friends and neighbors. They recognized that intervening more than that would create strife, jeopardize the fragile foundations of society, lead to more and greater sins, and cause far more harm than good.

This is the Torah way. Every Jew who has even a marginal Torah education knows this. It is incumbent upon every such Jew to separate himself from the poisonous, anti-God approach of the hysterical envelope-pushers and recalibrate his mind with true Torah. Step back, take a deep breath, and look at what people have become. This is not the Torah way, and it needs to stop now.

Better we all die from a virus than we live as hyperemotional savages.

As we approach Rosh Hashana and Shemitta, let us clear our minds of the noise, the fear, the propaganda, and the wild declarations from people without boundaries or limits. They do not speak in the name of Torah, and we should not let them poison our minds. Let every Jew reconnect to the Torah, reconnect to Hashem, banish the fear, and foster only friendly relations with those around us. Let us set a proper example to the rest of the world, through the carefully balanced ways of Chazal, and become deserving of the redemption this coming Shemitta.