You are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Egypt, where you used to live; and you are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Kena`an, where I am bringing you; nor are you to live by their laws. (Leviticus 18:3)
This injunction to not do as the 'Egyptians' is followed by a list of unacceptable sexual behaviors in the sight of HaShem which I believe are a "given" in the world of believers.
The chapter though, starts with a special injunction which is not just sexual. It rather naturally attaches itself to the other Mosaic exhortation:
"Do not follow the crowd when it does what is wrong."
This is a very complicated commandment. It is complicated because though we like to say that we try to follow the Torah, its application as to what is right and wrong can be subjective. As a result, this idea of "do not follow a crowd" might seem to be one of the main culprits for many of the divisions among believers, each one refusing to follow the other because they think he is wrong. I'd like to share a couple of stories from Jewish history. These stories tell us how some of the rabbis of the Yavneh Academy solved certain disunity problems.
The Roman Empire having dispersed Israel in the nations and destroyed both the Temple and Jerusalem, the Yavneh rabbis were trying to redefine Judaism. They were trying to create a Judaism for the dispersed Jews, a Judaism that was relevant even without the Temple, without the Holy City, or even a country to call their own. The work of these rabbis was truly remarkable. I believe that it is because of their brilliant efforts that Judaism is still alive and vibrant today.While the subject matter in these disputes between the sages may not feel important to us today, it was to them in their day. By sharing these stories, I am not trying to raise ritual purity issues, calendar issues, nor leadership issues, but only to highlight the attitudes of the humbler and wiser rabbis for us to emulate. I highlighted the bold parts of the story.
Instability caused by Roman Emperor Domitian's temporary breakup of the Yavneh assembly resulted in a number of disputes that created dissension among the Torah scholars. While such disharmony was both real and strong, the sages disagreed with one another only because each felt that his course of action was best for the nation as a whole. Personal animosity, or desire for honor, played no role in the opposing viewpoints,as the various episodes clearly indicate. Among these disputes are three famous incidents, two between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Joshua, and one involving Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar.
The first episode concerned Rabban Gamliel and other sages who disagreed with Rabbi Elazar regarding the ritual purity of a certain type of oven. In fact, Rabbi Elazar was so convinced that he was correct that he invoked supernatural phenomena to prove his point. A stream outside the yeshiva began flowing backwards, and the walls of the study hall began to move inward. Unimpressed, the other sages told him that miracles do not decide halachic issues. Not giving up, Rabbi Elazar asked G-d Himself to concur with his view, and a voice came from heaven stating that Rabbi Elazar's opinion should be followed, as he was the greatest of the rabbis. Despite this impressive evidence for Rabbi Elazar, the sages refused to relent, taking the entire incident as a Divine test to see whether they would back down from a decision reached by majority vote. Sadly, the sages also excommunicated Rabbi Elazar. Despite feeling he was correct, Rabbi Elazar observed the ban, demonstrating his great humility.
One year, Rabban Gamliel, the Nasi, and Rabbi Joshua, the Av Beit Din, disputed the proper day for Rosh HaShanah. Accordingly, Yom Kippur came out on a different day in each sage's calculation. While not openly rejecting Rabban Gamliel's Yom Kippur, Rabbi Joshua planned to observe his own date quietly. However, Rabban Gamliel commanded Rabbi Joshua to appear in court on Rabbi Joshua's supposed Yom Kippur, carrying his wallet and walking stick in violation of Rabbi Joshua's own calculations. Upon being told by his colleagues that Rabban Gamliel has jurisdiction over the calendar, Rabbi Joshua complied with the order. In a great display of respect for Rabbi Joshua, Rabban Gamliel rose to greet him, embraced him, and called him "my teacher, who is greater than I in Torah wisdom."
There was a disagreement between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Joshua as to whether or not reciting the evening prayer (Maariv) is obligatory. Rabban Gamliel held the former view, while Rabbi Joshua followed the latter. (Currently, Jewish practice mandates Maariv as an obligation.) When a student asked Rabbi Joshua for a private ruling on the matter, Rabbi Joshua told him Maariv was optional. Upon hearing that Rabbi Joshua told others to follow his opinion, Rabban Gamliel confronted Rabbi Joshua, who, in order to preserve the peace, denied his involvement in the matter. Sensing that Rabbi Joshua was trying to evade the issue, Rabban Gamliel forced him to stand during the Nasi's lecture at the yeshiva.
Stung by Rabban Gamliel's continuing humiliation of Rabbi Joshua, the people -- not the sages decided to depose Rabban Gamliel Gamliel as Nasi. However, a suitable candidate was needed to replace him, and this was not a simple matter. Obviously, Rabbi Joshua could not assume Rabban Gamliel's position, as such a move would indicate the greatest disrespect to Rabban Gamliel. Others were unacceptable for other reasons. Due to his undistinguished lineage, for example, and the fact that the people would not sufficiently respect him, Rabbi Akiva could not fill the spot.
Eventually, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, but 18 years old, was tapped for the job. Would the Jewish people follow such a young man? As an answer, G-d made a miracle and turned Rabbi Elazar's hair white like someone aged 70. Eventually, Rabban Gamliel asked forgiveness of Rabbi Joshua, and was reinstated as Nasi, sharing the position with Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.
Here, the Talmud notes Rabban Gamliel's great integrity, for during the entire time he was deposed, Rabban Gamliel took part in all the halachic discussions at the yeshiva, sitting among the disciples and accepting Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah's authority.
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Maybe we feel that the particular practical observance of a certain command, or a certain view of the calendar are very important, but in these stories, the sages felt that by taking a hard stance about it, they may break the greater commandment of causing dissension and division, and therefore cause harm to the community of Israel. In their eyes, consensus as well, a the welfare, safety, and unity of the community trumped their personal opinions and convictions.
As far as commandment application, as believers, it is easy to follow and obey the outward commandments such as proper sexual behavior, eating to a certain of kosher, using the right lingo, wearing tzitzits, refraining from certain types of work on the Shabbat, etc...
These are all commandments which find their own accountability in the fact that they are outward commandments; commandments where people see us living, eating, dressing differently.These are all good and well but if we take a look at some of the less obvious things such as the 7 most hated things in the eyes of HaShem, they are not about external obedience. Though often ignored and forgotten, they highlight very common and accepted behavior in both the political and the religious world. Here they are as listed in Proverbs 6:16-19.
There are six things Adonai hates, seven which he detests:
1. a haughty look,-------pride, arrogance, the sin of being condescending toward others.
2. a lying tongue, --------- not only to not speak the truth, but also trying to appear better than we really are in front of others, all the while ignoring that Hashem sees the depth of our hearts.
3. hands that shed innocent blood,----- not only the innocent blood that is shed through abortions, but also the blood shed by our indifference to the plight of those less fortunate than us, or by closing our eyes so we don't feel the responsibility.
4. a heart that plots wicked schemes,-------we do this when we practice revenge (which Hashem says belongs to Him); when we want to get back at someone; when we do not want to lose an asset; are competitive in business.
5. feet swift in running to do evil,----when we are swift to do what is wrong and pleases us but in comparison, slow to do what pleases Hashem.
6. a false witness who lies with every breath,---we do this in business advertisement by over-rating our goods and down-rating those of others. Sadly, we do this also very much in politics and religion.
7. and him who sows strife among brothers. ---a very common practice in families, especially again when it comes to money, politics, and religions. Congregations also are split because of it these, thus remaining in a never ending pattern of divisions and separations. Whereas religious people seem to strive in splitting hairs, politicians and businesses folks have learned that they have much more to gain through unity than by divisions. As the Master Himself said, "...
the worldly have more sekhel (brains) than those who have received the light -- (Luke 16:8)
The notions of pride, arrogance, shrewed dealings, deceiving, overpowering others and the likes are very valued in our world. They are valued above the godly virtues of humility, truth, honesty, integrity, letting ourselves be defrauded, or going 'under' for the sake of peace,
May we remember the words of the Master:
"You people make yourselves look righteous to others, but God knows your hearts; what people regard highly is an abomination before God!