Monday, July 17, 2006

Daas Torah

Daas Torah means that the Torah trains a person to think a certain way - with logic, with accuracy, with wisdom. And - and this is the main point here - it is not possible to attain this type of thinking unless you are a Torah scholar. This is because Torah is the way Hashem thinks. Hashem's thoughts are not only wise, they are "perfection." You can only train your mind to approach G-d's way of thinking by studying it. It is not duplicated anywhere.

The Halachic source for Daas Torah is a SMA in Choshen Mishpat #3, where he writes that the Halachic rulings of the layman tend to be the opposite of those of the Torah.

Rav Chaim Brisker gave numerous examples. Here's one:

He asked educated, clever, laymen what they think the Halachah ought to be in a case where your cat drinks up your neighbor's milk (do you have to pay for the milk)? And, what is the Halachah where your son accidentally throws his baseball through your neighbor’s window (do you have to pay for the window)?

He gave a hint: In one case you have to pay, in the other, you don't.

The laymen said that of course if your son breaks the window you have to pay - you can control your son, but not your cat! Parents have an obligation to make sure their children do not break windows, but there is no obligation to train cats.

The Halachah is exactly the opposite. Your cat is considered your possession, your property, and therefore an extension of yourself. If your property damages something, it’s as if you damaged it.

But your son, although there is a moral obligation to teach him right from wrong, legally, he is still not your possession. Therefore, you cannot bring the father to court for the deed of the child. They are two totally different entities.

There are more like this, but the point was, the Torah teaches people to think clearly, properly, and wisely. It also teaches values that are integral in making decisions.

Therefore, the greater a Talmid Chacham you are, the more you understand Torah, that is, the way G-d thinks, the more you are trained in that way of thinking.

Of course, this is all relative. Who has reached that level where his thinking mimics that of the Torah? Obviously, no human being can reach that level completely, since nobody can be perfect like G-d. The gauge to measure how much "Daas Torah" an individual has does not exist. Today, we have no Neviim, no Chazal, no Rishonim, and no Talmidei Chachamim on the levels that existed not long ago. The question of what level of Daas Torah exists today is not one that can be objectively answered, since there is no unit of measurement for Daas Torah. What we do understand is, that the Torah thinks differently than we do, and that those who are more connected to the Torah think closer to the Torah's way than those who are less.

And it takes more than just knowing Torah. Outside influences also affect a person's Daas. If his mind is influenced by secular thinking, that affects his Daas. If his righteousness is not proportionate to his Torah knowledge, that also effects his Daas. A person's Midos affect his Daas - if someone is not fearless and independent, then he will be influenced by the masses, the way Shaul HaMelech did not kill Agag because he was afraid of what people would say.

If a person has a vested interest in something (a Negiyus), that also effects his thinking. Nobody is immune to Negiyus. The Sanhedrin Hagadol was vulnerable to Negiyus. The leaders of the Sanhedrin, even in the days of Korach, rebelled against Moshe Rabbeinu, because they benefited from financial favors of Korach.

Even the greatest Tzadik can be misinformed. With lack of information, or false information, even the greatest Daas Torah can be terribly mistaken.

And even after all that, nobody is infallible. One of the reasons for the Halachah of "ain onshin min hadin" - that we do not punish people based on a Kal Vachomer - is because a Kal Vachomer is not a tradition but rather logic. And you never know for sure that your logic is not mistaken. You have no right to punish someone else because your logic says he is "chayav." That applies to the Daas Torah even of Chazal.

In addition, there are other factors that can cause great Tzadikim and Talmidei Chachamim to make mistakes. Sometimes, as a punishment for the generation, Hashem will blind the eyes of its leaders, and make the greatest Talmidei Chachamim say the wrong things. This, according to the Maharsha, is why Rav Yochanan ben Zakai "forgot" to ask Aspasyonus to spare Jerusalem. Because the generation was not worthy, Hashem hid the obvious and logical from their leader.

The Torah leaders are spiritually connected to their flock. If the flock is not worthy, the leader is blinded. Even the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu, Chazal say, was only for the sake of the people, and when the people were not worthy, Moshe lost his Nevuah.

The Ohr HaChaim says that the reason the Meraglim got so messed up is because even though their (the Meraglim) intentions were pure, but - listen to this! - because those who elected them to the job had the wrong intentions, the character and the imperfections of the people infected their appointed representatives - the Meraglim.

In other words, if you are a Tzadik but elected to your position by non-Tzadikim, then you are in trouble of getting messed up yourself.


The best way to distinguish between legit and illegit positions is if you are qualified to do so yourself. "Lo am haaretz chasid", an ignorant man cannot be pious, and the simplest reason is, he will not know who to follow.

But there are solutions even for the non-advanced in Torah. The formula is, See the attitude of the opposing Gedolim to the view in question.

Sometimes a godol will say "I don’t agree with this position." He may even say "I think this is absurd." But he will not discredit the person saying it. On the other hand, when he says "The person who said this is not a legitimate Godol", or even "Whoever says this is a fool" then you have a right to believe it.

Example: Zionism. The opponents to it did not merely say it is absurd or wrong, but rather that it was based on wishful thinking and dishonest misrepresentation of Torah. Reb Elchonon said regarding those who believe that the work of the heretical Zionists (i.e. the State of Israel) is a great merit, (Kovetz Maamarim I:p.161), "Anyone who believes that a great merit can come from the worst sinners is either an idiot (tipish) or a mocker of the words of Chazal."

This is but one example of the nullification that the Gedolim had for Zionism. Not merely that it is wrong, but rather that its motivation is wrong. There is a big difference.

You also want to see what views are "traditional". Meaning, new ideologies are always suspect. Our religion does not develop new ideologies. If the Gedolim of the previous generation did not hold of a certain ideology then it is not legitimate. Rashi says that if you are in doubt about what is legitimate, just follow the policies of the old generation Gedolim and then you are safe.

It is also true that dishonesty often accompanies illegitimate ideologies, since there are insufficient facts upon which to build their ideologies. For instance, when the Lubavitchers claim that Rav Aharon Kotler ZTL starved Lubavitcher students to death or that Rav Shach ZTL is against Chasidim (not just Lubavitch), or that he disrespected the Rambam in an alleged interview in Chabad - such things you don’t find among legitimate places, no matter how in error they are. Checking out facts often exposes fakers for what they are.

Rav Yonason Eyebushitz was a great Godol, and was subject to the false and baseless accusation of his being a Shabse Tzvi-nik. But nobody B"H takes those misinformed accusations seriously (except some sensationalist maskilim who have nothing better to do with their life than trying to "out" Gedolim as being closet heretics. Sigh.)

Of course there is such a thing as Kameios (its in the Gemora and Shulchan Aruch and poskim), and Brachos, but they come from great Tzadikim like Rav Yoason Eyebushitz ZTL, not witch doctor women or amei haaretz or spiritual mediocrities.

Even regarding a prophet, the Rambam says that only someone who is established beforehand to be a tzadik and yorei shamayim to the Nth degree is acceptable as a Navi; if someone who is not a Torah Jew of great accomplishment professes to be a Navi, we know he is a faker or witch doctor or tumah user, and the Rambam says this is true even if he indeed makes some miracles.

The Satmar Rebbe ZTL who was probably the greatest maven on these things in our times, was once asked about these Kabalah people who aren’t exceptional in the Yiras Shamayim - Talmidei Chachamim but claim to "see" things. This was his answer:

The Gemora says that before a baby is born, a malach comes and shows him the entire world from one end to the other, and teaches him the whole Torah. Then when he is born he forgets the Torah.

Question: The Gemora says that he forgets the Torah, but it doesn’t say that he forgets his vision of the entire world. So why, when a baby is born, does he not know what the whole world looks like from end to end?

Answer: Once he forgets his Torah, he no longer can see the world. Because without Torah, you cant see a thing.

In other words, Rav Yonason Eyebushitz is reliable; the GRA is reliable; the Chazon Ish is reliable. They have Torah. These others are useless to us.

Gedloei Hador are recognized for their outstanding attributes. Most people don’t have them - that’s why you don’t consider your next door neighbor a Godol HaDor. The Torah Temimah was just never recognized as an Odom Godol, and his sefer, though very useful, was never considered an authority. This is just plain history - and not all that far back. There was no controversy over this either. It’s basically known by everyone.

Daas Torah does NOT mean that someone cannot make a mistake The determination of how much a given individual's opinions are in this category is but one element of the question, How do we know how big someone is?

There are no options here. You have to decide. Not only that, but regardless of whatever answer you get to this question, you WILL BE deciding.

If I told you to accept the "accepted" Gedolim, the question remains accepted by whom?

If I tell you that the Chazon Ish says that when in doubt you should follow the majority of Bnei Torah (he does say this), the question still remains, who is considered a Ben Torah? There are differing opinions on this as well.

If I told you to blindly follow the Gedolim you will still ask “How do I decide who to blindly follow”? In the bottom line, you are going to have to decide who the Torah leaders are based on the same criteria you determine any questions in the world: Honesty and expertise. If you are not a maven on recognizing a Tzadik and Talmid Chacham, you’re at a very big disadvantage.

There was an old libe going around in the name of Rav Shach, about 25 or 30 years ago. He said, "In America the Gedolim are made by Moshe Scherer and Trainer Studios" (the first photographer to make "Gedolim pictures"). I don’t know if Rav Shach really said this (though pretty much the whole world says he did) but the point is true regardless - we tend to accept Torah leaders based on who is written up most in the paper or who certain lay leaders say to follow.

Obviously both criteria are wrong. (And even if they were right, how would you know which papers to listen to, or which lay people to obey?)


When Rav Meir Shapiro ZTL created Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, he set it up for 1,000 students. He was asked, "It says in the Gemora that out of 1,000 students, only ONE becomes a Rav. So what’s the point of the other 999 being there?"

Rav Meir answered, "True, only one will earn well enough to become a Rav, but the other 999 will at least learn well enough to recognize who that one is!"

If we can’t be a maven on that one, at the very least, we must try to be a maven on the 999 who can recognize the one!

The more you are a maven on Torah, the more you will be able to determine where Daas Torah is.

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There is no guarantee that a Godol, no matter how great he is, will not be tricked or misinformed, and there is and never was any level of Ruach HaKodesh in existence that could always determine fact from fiction.

There is a Teshuva in the Rav P'Alim of the Ben Ish Chai where someone asked the Ben Ish Chai about some statements of the Arizal that are discussed in the Teshuvos Avkas Rochjel of the Bais Yosef. The problem was, those statements of the Arizal are shot through with glaring and fundamental errors. How could the Arizal author such ignorance, was the question.

The Ben Ish Chai answered that obviously the Arizal never wrote such things. And what probably occurred was that some student of the Arizal wanted to discuss his own Torah with the Bais Yosef, but he knew that the Bais Yosef would have no interest. So he gave his own Torah to the Bais Yosef and tricked him by saying they were written by the Arizal. And the Bais Yosef was fooled.

In a subsequent Teshuva, the Ben Ish Chai addresses objections that someone posed to this scenario. Among other objections, the questioner demanded, how can we say that the Bais Yosef was fooled like that? The Bais Yosef was an awesome Torah giant, and a Baal Ruach HaKodesh of the highest caliber! It is surely a pegiah in the Kovod of the Bais Yosef to say that he was fooled in such a base manner!

The Ben Ish Chai responded that such an objection is "lo nitan lahaomer" - cannot be said. He writes that much greater people than the Bais Yosef were fooled – such as Bava ben Zuta, in the Gemora when Hordus disguise himself and talk to him, and the great sage had no idea who he was talking to; and even Elisha the prophet - the prophet! - did not know the facts about the son of the Shunamis. "Hashem hid this from me," he said. It is certainly NOT an imperfection in anybody to say that they were fooled or misinformed. Hashem does NOT give anybody the ability to be some kind of all-knowing Sherlock Holmes and be invulnerable to trickery.

And so, he insists, the Bais Yosef was tricked. He was given information in the name of the Arizal, he took it as coming from the Arizal, and discussed it as if it came form the Arizal.

And the entire discussion is printed in the Teshuvos of the Bais Yosef. Even though it was a forgery.

And if anybody knew about Ruach HaKodesh and Siyata D'Shmaya, it was the Ben Ish Chai.

Here's more. This one is from another Godol who knew well what Ruach HaKodesh and siyata dishmaya are.

The Satmar Rebbe ZTL explains that, although Yisro advised Moshe to appoint qualified judges by means of Ruach HaKodesh (see Rashi), still, we find that Moshe did not accept that, and did not rely on his Ruach HaKodesh to determine people's qualifications. "Appoint people who are reputable in your tribes" Moshe said in Devarim. Rashi explains: "I do not know the applicants. But you do, since he grew up among you."

The reason is, because Ruach HaKodesh cannot be relied upon always. Therefore Moshe, when he needed facts on the ground, did not rely on his own Ruach HaKodesh but insisted that the facts be determined by social means.

He continues: This is why Moshe needed Yisro to be "our eyes [of Klall Yisroel]", which is what Moshe told him when he tried to convince him not to go away to Midian. Why would we need Yisro? He asks. If Moshe himself is around, and even after Moshe, Osniel ben Kenaz, shevet levi, and all the Shoftim were around - what could Yisro possibly contribute in Torah knowledge that they cant?

His answer is that Klall Yisroel suffered much from the Erev Rav, and needed to know how to handle them - what they are thinking, how they act, etc. And you can be the greatest sage in the world, but if you want to know facts on the ground, you should be informed by someone intimately familiar with those facts - by someone who himself was once "one of them." And so, Moshe and Yehoshua and the Shoftim, with all their Daas Torah, and all their Ruach HaKodesh would not be able to perceive the facts as good as someone who went through them himself.

He continues: This is why, he says, that we occasionally see that even Goyim knew things that Torah sages did not, for example, Antoninus "taught" Rebbi - and Rebbi agreed with him - that the Yetzer Horah only enters a person after he is born, but not while still in the womb.

How come Rebbi didn’t know this? He asks.

He answers that Rebbi had a pasuk that said differently: v'yisrotztu habanim bekirbah - Esav clearly had a Yetzer Horah even while in his mother's womb (see Maharsha ad loc). What Rebbi didn’t realize, was that Esav is an exception, since he is Edom itself - the personification of the Satan. And so Esav surely had a Yezter Horah while in his mother's womb, but that does not apply to anyone else.

And Antoninus knew this, because Antoninus was an Edomite and only an Edomite would know that they are the personification of Evil itself. So only someone who is "one of them" was able to inform Rebbi of "their" true nature.

There's more: This is why, he says, Raish Lakish was known to be able to determine whether any given person was a thief or an honest person, even though sages even greater than him could not know. This is because, Ruach HaKodesh of the Chazal notwithstanding, Raish Lakish himself was a thief once upon a time, and therefore, he was intimately familiar with the thoughts and the ways of thieves. And all the sages, with their Daas Torah and Ruach HaKodesh, were not equally able to do so.

Because if you want "facts on the ground", the source to go to is not Ruach Hakodesh, or Siyata Dishmaya - which may or may not work in any given case - but rather to someone who simply has experience, information, and intimate knowledge.

And so, if you want to have Emunas Chachamim, have it with regard to what the Rabbi himself said: If you know that the facts he used are untrue, then you are fully entitled to pasken differently, and not follow his psak.

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