Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Thinking for yourself

R' Nosson Kamenestky z'l in an interview talking about the traditional Litvish approach which was actually to use one's own mind in running his life.

Q: Is there a halachic source for blindly following a rabbi in matters that are not related to Jewish law, such as politics or other matters? 
“The Mitnagdim (non-Chassidic Jews) always thought for themselves. If they had a specific question they could not decide, they would come to get advice from a wise and knowledgeable man who had the Torah behind him, but things a person can figure out on his own, it is forbidden to depend on others’ judgment. In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam describes the great power of the human mind to make decisions, a man must use his own mind, do not denigrate your own intelligence. If you have a doubt about something, go ask someone wiser, after you hear what they say, you do not have to follow their advice like a blind man, you have to digest it and decide if it was good or bad. The Mishna asks, ‘Upon whom should one rely?’ And it answers, ‘On God.’ It does not say ‘On Rav Elyashiv,’ or ‘On Rav Shteinman.’ It is obvious that we talk of individual issues, but in issues concerning the entire community, great Torah scholars are the leaders of the community and guides of all of Israel.”
Q: From what, in your opinion, comes the adoration and complete obedience that currently permeates the relationship to the rabbis in the Lithuanian world, which is reminiscent of the way Hasidim act? 
“You’d be surprised to hear that Hitler, may his name be erased, is responsible for this. Most of the Jews who survived the Holocaust were from Hasidic areas, and this was their approach. If there is a change in the upbringing of the Lithuanian Jews of today, it is this, that we teach them to be Hasidim of the Lithuanian Rabbis - that is my opinion. I, in any case, was not raised this way. I was raised in the best Lithuanian fashion. Healthy skepticism, respect for wisdom, and having some knowledge of true modesty. But that was my problem –I wrote from that perspective.” 

Similarly, I heard Rav Avigdor Miller, who talked often about the importance of seeking the advice of gadolm, say that one must be responsible for his own life. It is dangerous to rely on another too much. 

None of these means that one should rely only on himself. None of it means that a person should not study the words of the wise in order to acquire wisdom. As one Litvish Rav told me a person should strive to stay within the 6 line highway that the gadolim of his generation traverse, but within those 6 lanes you have choices. But with freedom comes responsibility. We are responsible for our choices and pay the price for bad ones.

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