Ge’ulah and the Halachic Process

Last week I drew the conclusion from the Qetzos haChoshen that Torah is not Truth, it — combined with the Jewish People — is the process by which “Truth will bloom from the earth”. As I wrote then:

One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his position as follows:

The Maharal’s position is that “divrei E-lokim Chaim — the word of the ‘Living’ G-d” is simply too rich and too complex to exist in this world. Therefore they are mapped to oversimplified models, related to Hashem’s words the way a shadow is a flattened representation of the original. And thus, different people looking at the problem from different directions will get different shadows — even though they are all accurate representations of the same thing.

It is possible to say that history is the process of closing the gap between Truth in its full richness, and Torah as our ability to make it manifest. Or, as the mequbalim would say, “Lesheim yichud Qudshah berikh Hu uShechintei – For the sake of the unity of the Holy” — i.e. Remote — “One and His Presence” — i.e. as we Perceive her amongst us.

I want to make explicit what this says about the case of the Tanur shel Achnai. This tanur is a kind of oven where the parts are just fitted together. Is it a single oven and can become tamei, or not? (I discussed this a while back in a post titled “The Legislative Authority of Bas Qol“, a summary of the Encyclopedia Talmudica entry. It should be noted again here that there is a clear dispute as to whether this story describes the norm for revelation and halakhah, or if our accepting the Bas Qol authorization to hold like Beis Hillel is an example the norm. Here we will just avoid the question, and assume like most do that it is indicative of the norm.)

An Achna’i-style oven was made from pieces of pottery that were not cemented together. So, the question arose: Can it, like any other oven, become tamei? Or, is it like shards of pottery which can not? Rabbi Yehoshua and the other sages ruled stringently. Rabbi Yehoshua ruled leniently.

When the vote was taken, Rabbi Eliezer disputed the result. “If I am right, let the carob tree prove it.” The tree flew through the air. But the chakhamim replied that we don’t accept halachic rulings from trees. He similarly makes a stream flowed backwards, and even the walls of the beis medrash started to buckle. All three times, the miracles back Rabbi Eliezer, but the sages insist the law follows the majority. Rabbi Eliezer then appeals to heaven, and a bas qol declares, “Why are you disputing with R. Eliezar, for the Halakhah is according to him everywhere”. Rabbi Yehoshua rose to his feet and said, “It is not in Heaven.” (Devarim 30:12)

Several generations later, Rav Noson asked Eliyahu haNavi what happened in heaven during that story. He is told that G-d “smiled” and said, “Nitzchuni banai – My children have defeated me!”

In light of the idea we’re currently developing, we can say as follows. Rav Eliezer may have even been closer to Emes than the final ruling was. But the purpose of halakhah isn’t directly to obtain the Truth. It’s to make the Truth bloom within us and be manifest in the world. Thus, the essence is our working the process. And thus, by implementing it, “nitzchuni banai!

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the halachic process and the role of poseiq in his introduction to Igros Mosheh. (The introduction itself deserves serious study.)  He writes about “ha’emes lehora’ah umichuyav lehoros kein af al pi im be’etzem galyah kelapei shemaya galya she’eino kein hapeirush – the true ruling, and one is obligated to teach accordingly, even if in essence is it revealed in heaven that this isn’t the correct eplanation!” The ideal is following the pesaq as according to the process.

As proof, Rav Moshe brings the gemara in Shabbos 130. We rule that only the milah itself overrules Shabbos. All preparation before the milah must be done in advance. Rabbi Eliezer ruled that anything necessary for the milah, even cutting wood to make the fire to make the knife, etc… could also be done on Shabbos. There was a town in Israel that followed Rabbi Eliezer. The gemara says that Hashem rewarded them for their tenacity for the mitzvah of milah. No one in that town died an early death. And when the Romans passed a law in Israel against milah, they exempted that one town from the law!

Who was right — this town, which was rewarded for their position, or we, who rule differently? If we understand that the essence of halakhah is that it and the Jewish People become one in a process to make truth bloom in this world, we can understand how the answer could be “both”.

Torah, like life, is about becoming, not being.

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