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A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M.

JOEL

What Happens in Heaven...
Stays in Heaven
I f it is acceptable to have favorite
pesukim (verses) in the Torah,
I would choose the following
section. Toward the end of Moshe’s
farewell speech to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe
Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel
Principal, Stark High School, Cleveland, OH
shares some inspirational words,
meant to motivate the people. In
Parshas Nitzavim (Devarim 30:11- mimcha” — “It is not concealed from can he introduce a new law based on
14), Moshe says: you” that you would need nevi’im a heavenly prophecy. If a prophet tries
--‫ ֲא ֶׁשר ָאנֹכִ י ְמצַ ּוְ ָך ַהּיֹום‬,‫יא ּכִ י ַה ִּמצְ וָ ה ַהּזֹאת‬ (prophets), “v’lo rechoka hi” — “And to add, remove, or change mitzvos, we
‫ יב ל ֹא‬.‫ וְ ל ֹא ְרח ָֹקה ִהוא‬,‫נִ ְפלֵ את ִהוא ִמ ְּמָך‬-‫ל ֹא‬ it is not far away” that you would need do not listen to him.
‫ּלָ נּו ַה ָּׁש ַמיְ ָמה‬-‫ ִמי יַ ֲעלֶ ה‬,‫ לֵ אמֹר‬:‫ ִהוא‬,‫ַב ָּׁש ַמיִ ם‬ chachamim (Sages), to explain to you
There is a well-known story in
-‫ יג וְ ל ֹא‬.‫ וְ נַ ֲע ֶׂשּנָ ה‬,‫ וְ יַ ְׁש ִמ ֵענּו א ָֹתּה‬,‫וְ יִ ָּק ֶח ָה ּלָ נּו‬ what needs to be done. Don’t think
Maseches Bava Metzia (59b) that
‫עֵ ֶבר‬-‫לָ נּו ֶאל‬-‫ ִמי יַ ֲע ָבר‬,‫ לֵ אמֹר‬:‫ ִהוא‬,‫ֵמ ֵע ֶבר לַ ּיָ ם‬ that teshuva isn’t a reality given your
applies this principle as well. Rebbi
-‫ יד ּכִ י‬.‫ וְ נַ ֲע ֶׂשּנָ ה‬,‫ וְ יַ ְׁש ִמ ֵענּו א ָֹתּה‬,‫ַהּיָ ם וְ יִ ָּק ֶח ָה ּלָ נּו‬ time or place. Rather, repentance is
Eliezer ben Hirkanus declared that
.‫ לַ עֲ ׂשֹתֹו‬,‫ ְּב ִפיָך ִּובלְ ָב ְבָך‬:‫ ְמאֹד‬,‫ָקרֹוב ֵאלֶ יָך ַה ָּד ָבר‬ always attainable, even though we may
a certain oven made out of separate
11. For this commandment which I sometimes feel like it is out of reach
coils of clay is not susceptible to
command you this day, is not concealed for one reason or another.
tum’ah (impurity), while the Sages
from you, nor is it far away. 12. It is not Rashi offers a broader definition declared that it was. After failing to
in heaven, that you should say, “Who of this “mitzvah” and suggests it is convince the other members of the
will go up to heaven for us and fetch it referring to the entire Torah. The Sanhedrin, he resorted to supernatural
for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can messages then are similar, but this means to convince them. In support of
fulfill it?” 13. Nor is it beyond the sea, interpretation is all-encompassing. his opinion, Rebbi Eliezer summoned
that you should say, “Who will cross to It is our responsibility to acquire a carob tree to uproot itself and walk
the other side of the sea for us and fetch and attain the Torah. “Shamayim” across a garden. He then instructed
it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can (heaven) isn’t going to do it for us. water in a stream to reverse direction.
fulfill it?” 14. Rather, [this] thing is very Simultaneously, the contents of Last, he ordered the walls of their
close to you; it is in your mouth and in the Torah — the commandments, study hall to support him, so they
your heart, so that you can fulfill it. the stories, and the lessons — are trembled and tilted inwards. After all
But there is some debate as to what accessible to everyone, not just the of these miracles failed to sway the
Moshe was truly referring to. What is chachamim and nevi’im. Sages, a bas kol (a heavenly voice)
this “mitzvah” that is close to us? Beyond the charge these pesukim called out that the halacha should
provide to Bnei Yisrael, they also serve follow Rebbi Eliezer.
According to the Ramban, it is the
mitzvah of teshuva (repentance). This as the basis for a halachic concept. Unmoved by the supernatural display
parsha is always read right before Based in part on the phrase “lo of support, Rebbi Yehoshua, the av
Rosh Hashana. The Seforno explains bashamayim hi,” the Rambam codifies beis din (chief of the court), responded
in this vein that the message Moshe (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 9:1) that a with “lo bashamayim hi” — “It isn’t
is leaving Bnei Yisrael is “lo nifleis hi prophet can’t override halacha, nor in heaven.” It doesn’t matter that the

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
heavens testified on Rebbi Eliezer’s creation of man by saying (Bereishis gave Moshe all of Torah She’ba’al Peh.
behalf. We follow the guiding 1:26) “na’aseh adam b’tzalmeinu” — With all of the transmissions over the
principles given to us, including “Let us make man.” Why is it plural? generations, some of the details were
“acharei rabim l’hatos” — we follow With whom was Hashem consulting? lost. The Sages seek to rediscover
the majority even if an individual One answer is that Hashem was them, and that is where machlokos
sage might have gotten a law “right” talking to mankind. We are created come from. Another explanation is
in the absolute sense. The Torah tells in an imperfect state (as opposed to that Hashem only gave Moshe the
us through these pesukim that the all other creations). Hashem started general principles, but left it up to
responsibility for interpreting the the creation process, and we are the chachamim to apply them. The
Torah rests on the chachamim of each invited, and charged, to do our best application of them is where there
generation, which they do by utilizing to continue and complete it — by are disagreements. [See Rambam’s
the system given to Moshe on Har reaching our potential. introduction to Seder Zeraim.]
Sinai, and then passed down to each
This partnership is also emphasized A third approach, based on the
generation. This can’t be overruled,
in the difference between the first and Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 4:2) is that
even by Hashem! (Rebbi Eliezer’s
second set of luchos, tablets. There Hashem taught Moshe 49 reasons to
refusal to follow this system ultimately
was one main difference between the prohibit each situation and 49 reasons
led to him being excommunicated.)
first set of luchos — which Moshe to permit those very same situations.
The Gemara continues to describe how ultimately smashed in response to Hashem gave Moshe and the
Rebbi Nasan asked Eliyahu HaNavi the sin of the Golden Calf — and the chachamim all of the logic and tools,
how Hashem reacted to their decision second set. While Hashem wrote on along with the ability to determine
to ignore the miracles and the bas both of them, Hashem only carved what “truth” is. As Rav Chaim Navon
kol, and rule against Rebbi Eliezer. out the first luchos. Moshe had to of Yeshivat Har Etzion beautifully
Eliyahu said that Hashem’s response carve out the second set, upon which explains (article available at etzion.
was “nitzchuni banai” — “My children Hashem then wrote. Ultimately it org.il/en/download/file/fid/4477):
have been victorious over me.” Hashem was the second set that endured. The act of Torah study is not aimed at
rejoiced in the fact that they followed I heard from Rabbi Eli Rubin that uncovering and revealing an absolute
the system He had put in place for it endured because that was where truth, but at creation and advancement.
the development of Jewish law. This Hashem and mankind partnered In this respect, Halakha is closer to a
is exactly how Hashem wanted the together. The creation of that second work of art than to a rigid mathematical
halachic process to play out. set involved both Moshe and Hashem, system, in that it does not require a
The compelling question is: why in partnership. specific and unequivocal conclusion.
not follow the bas kol? If Hashem Until now, we have advanced the ... With respect to the Oral Law, the
reveals absolute truth to us, why theory that even though it may not concept of “truth” is meaningless. The
doesn’t He want us to follow that? lead to absolute truth, we follow Torah student is not required to strive for
Aren’t the Sages simply trying to the halachic process and utilize the the absolute “truth” that is concealed in
uncover the truth? Perhaps it is tools given to the chachamim, like God’s hidden places. The Torah serves
counterintuitive, but Hashem is not following the majority. Perhaps, as raw material for human creation,
looking for us to follow absolute truth. though, there is no absolute truth and man must develop the Torah in the
Rather, Hashem’s goal is to create a when it comes to halacha. There is direction that seems right to him.
partnership with us. Hashem wants us, some debate about what Hashem This approach can also give meaning
Bnei Yisrael, involved in the creation gave Moshe on Har Sinai. If Moshe to a well-known phrase from the
and shaping of halacha. He wants us to was given both Torah She’bichsav (the Gemara in Eruvin (13b). The Gemara
partner with Him in this process. Written Torah) and Torah She’ba’al states that for three years Beis Hillel
This isn’t the only time we see how Peh (the Oral Torah), how are there and Beis Shammai argued. Each one
much Hashem values His partnership machlokos, arguments, in the Gemara? said the halacha was according to
with mankind. During the story of There are a few approaches to this. their opinion. In the middle of this
creation, Hashem introduces the One understanding is that Hashem argument, a bas kol came out and said:

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
‫ והלכה כבית‬,‫אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים הן‬ can be understood simply — “since Students have asked me if the way we
.‫הלל‬ there is no single halakhic truth, both currently do things is the way Hashem
These and these are the words of the opinions are equally legitimate and intended. “Did Hashem really mean
Living God, and the law follows Beis ‘true.’ Both are considered a legitimate for us to have two sinks, two sets of
Hillel. development of halakha.” Therefore, dishes, etc.?” “Did Hashem really
machlokes isn’t a bad thing, and may intend for us to soak our strawberries
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Emes
even be desirable. in soapy water to rid them of bugs?”
L’Yaakov, Eruvin 6b, understood that
“Did Hashem intend for us to not be
the argument was not an ordinary Similarly, in his introduction to
able to turn a light on or watch TV on
argument but a very broad argument Choshen Mishpat, Rabbi Yechiel
Shabbos, the day of rest?” Perhaps we
about the nature of halacha: who do Michel Epstein, author of the Aruch
can now meaningfully and confidently
we follow when we have a majority HaShulchan, says:
answer these questions. Hashem
and a minority, but the minority is ‫ואדרבה זאת היא תפארת תורתינו הקדושה‬ didn’t have a particular picture in
a little bit sharper? Beis Shammai ‫והטהורה וכל התורה כולה נקראת שירה‬ mind; Hashem asked us to help Him
argued that you follow the sharper ‫ותפארת השיר היא כשהקולות משונים זה‬ paint the picture and determine what
group. Since they are sharper, they ‫מזה וזהו עיקר הניעמות ומי שמשוטט בים‬ it should look like.
will find the absolute truth. Beis ‫התלמוד יראה נעימות משונות בכל הקולות‬
Hillel maintained that we follow the This idea — that we partner with
.‫המשונות זה מזה‬
majority. Even though it may not Hashem in all ways and even play a
On the contrary, this is the glory of our
be the absolute truth, we follow the role in painting the landscape of the
pure and holy Torah. The entire Torah is
majority since it better reflects true world — resonates with the way my
called a song, and the splendor of a song
human intellect. While the heavenly father lives his life. With the support
is when there are different voices; this
voice states that both are the words of my mother, he has dedicated his
is the essence of harmony. Anyone who
of Hashem, it also concludes that the entire life to answering the call to
sails the sea of the Talmud will discern
halacha follows Beis Hillel. In practice, help the Jewish community raise
the harmony rising from all the different
we have to choose an opinion to their different voices in harmony to
voices.
follow. But fundamentally, “both these partner with Hashem in tikun olam,
and these are the words of the Living Mankind’s partnering with Hashem in perfecting the world. May we all
God.” the creation of halacha is harmonious merit to contribute our voices to this
to Hashem. harmony as well, and truly partner
Rav Navon explains that this Gemara
with Hashem.

(L-R) Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel, President Richard M. Joel, Dr. Esther Joel, Dr. Penny Joel and Dr. Noam Joel

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777