This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Tzipporah Machlah Klapper
To what extent can people choose which psak they receive?
This week’s parsha offers a clue in the form of one of the most famous psukim in Tanach: “צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף”, or “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Devarim 16:20). This at first seems redundant – after all, the previous two psukim spoke about justice as well. Rashi and the gemara (Sanhedrin 32b) interpret it as referring to the literal pursuit of justice – you must seek out a good court.
The gemara lists several examples. “Follow the Chachamim to the yeshiva: After R’ Eliezer to Lud, after R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai to Brur Chayil, after R’ Yehoshua to Peki’in, after Rabban Gamliel to Yavneh, after R’ Akiva to Bnei Brak, after R’ Masya to Dumi, after R’ Chanina ben Tradyon to Sichni, after R’ Yosei to Tzippori, after R’ Yehuda ben Beseira to Netzivin, after R’ Yehoshua to Golah, after Rebbe to Beis She’arim, and after the Chachamim [Sanhedrin] to the Chamber of Hewn Stone.”
Interestingly, most of these examples are contemporaries. All were alive and paskening at the same time as at least some of the others. Many of their positions were disputes with one another. Indeed, the gemara in Yevamos says that they practiced these contradictory positions – in the place of R’ Eliezer, they followed his extreme position that any melacha involved in the process of bris milah, however distantly so, might be performed on Shabbos. Because the two places were different, they could practice contradictory halachos.
How can the gemara advise that one follow both of these, then? How can it advise that one follow both Rabban Gamliel and R’ Yehoshua?
There are two possibilities. Either (a) the position doesn’t matter, only the validity of the decisor, or (b) the position matters, but one is permitted to choose which position one believes to be most “just” and to seek advice accordingly.
It is difficult to argue (a), since any intellectually honest person will have to admit they have biases on the outcomes of at least some decisions. Thus, it would seem that one is permitted, within reason, to seek out a position one believes is morally correct and follow it against other shitos.
Tzipporah Machlah Klapper is a six-time alumna of the Summer Beit Midrash and a two-time Alumna of Midreshet Avigayil.