to the Torah that they teach you and according to the judgment that
they tell you, so shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word
that they will tell you, right or left
must obey the decision of the courts even if you are convinced they
are wrong, even if they seem to be telling you that right is left
and left is right - (and certainly you must obey if it is clear
to you that the decision is correct)."
One wintry Friday
afternoon in the town of Vilna, the wife of a poor tailor had a
halachic question concerning the chicken dish she was preparing
for her family Shabbat meal. She quickly sent one of her
older children to the Vilna Rav, (the chief rabbi of the
city), to ask for his ruling whether it was permissible to eat the
Unbeknownst to the
wife, her husband also sent an older child to the Gaon of
Vilna who lived close by, to consult him on this very same matter.
By general consensus
(then and now), the Gaon of Vilna was a Torah giant
on the level of the Rishonim, even though he lived in the
1800s. He was not only the greatest Torah authority in the
city of Vilna, but was accepted as the greatest Torah authority
of the last 500 years.
With regret, the Gaon
informed the child that the chicken dish had been rendered unfit
for eating. Soon thereafter, the other child returned from the Vilna
Rav with great joy. The Rav had ruled that the chicken
dish was permissible and fit for eating!
The couple was confused.
What should they do now? The wife turned to her husband.
as fast as you can to the Rav and seek his advice."
The husband ran to
the Rav to ask him what to do under the circumstances. The
Rav told him;
"Go home and
enjoy your Shabbat. Tell your wife to serve the chicken dish.
To prove that I am right, the Gaon himself will join me at
your Shabbat table to partake of your chicken dish!"
After the Friday evening
services, the Rav called upon the Gaon and explained
that while he fully realized that in terms of halachic expertise
he was as dust beneath the feet of the Gaon, nevertheless
he was the Chief Rabbi of Vilna. Under Jewish law, it was his ruling
that should be followed unless it was clearly a mistaken ruling,
which it was not, because the issue turned on a matter of opinion.
In his opinion, which
was halachically defensible, the chicken dish was permissible.
Even the Gaon was therefore subject to his ruling as a member
of the congregation of Vilna. And to avoid violating the prohibition
you shall not deviate
in Parshat Shoftim, he was asking the Gaon to submit
to his ruling and demonstrate this submission by coming with him
to the home of the tailor and his wife to partake of the chicken
The Gaon agreed,
and the poor tailor and his wife were overwhelmed. Never before
in their lives had any Rabbi sat at their table. Now they were being
honored by the visit of Jewish Vilna's two most prominent citizens.
The two leading Rabbis of the town were with them for their Friday
The Gaon and
the Rav sat down at the Shabbat table. In her anxiety
to treat her revered guests with the honor they deserved, the wife
stumbled as she brought the dish to the table and knocked over the
candlesticks. In those days cheap candles were made of non-kosher
animal fat and dripping fat fell straight into the chicken dish!
This time, there was no doubt whatever that the food was halachically
forbidden to eat.
The Vilna Rav
turned to the Gaon.
me, for heaven has convinced me that I erred in my judgment and
you ruled correctly in declaring that the chicken dish was unfit
"On the contrary"
said the Gaon, "you are the Rav of this town,
and according to the Halacha, I accept your ruling. However,
heaven was on my side in saving me from having to eat of the food
that I myself declared to be halachically forbidden."
The point of the story,
however, is that the Gaon was willing to partake of it. With
all due modesty, it was clear to all parties involved that he was
a much greater expert in Halacha than the local Rav.
Yet, he held himself enjoined by the commandment that one must follow
the ruling of a lesser sage who is the local autonomous rabbinic
authority. The Gaon of Vilna could certainly not be held
suspect of agreeing to partake of a treif (non-kosher) chicken
dish for whatever reason. If the chief rabbi ruled that the chicken
dish was kosher, it truly was permissible under Jewish law for all
the members of the Vilna Congregation.
Why should the candles
have fallen into the chicken dish?
Even though the Halacha
was on his side, the Rav of Vilna was nursing doubts in his
mind. Perhaps he had ruled incorrectly, perhaps the Gaon
was right and they should not be eating any of the chicken dish.
So the Rav was sending out negative vibes. The Gaon
of Vilna was apprehensive of having to eat of food that he had declared
unfit for consumption, so he too was sending out negative vibes.
The disturbed signals sent out by the tailor and his wife reinforced
the negative energies in the room. The atmosphere was charged with
the ingredients for the event that brought relief to both the Rabbis.
Thank Heaven for falling
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