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Don't Be Quick To Ascribe Mistakes To Great People

I am infatuated with the Sfas Emes. Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter [died in 1905 at the age of 59] was a standout Chassidic Rebbe. His Torah's are deep and delicious. When he was 19 [!!!!] and his grandfather R' Yitzchak Meir passed away, the Chassidim wanted him to take the mantle of leadership. He refused and instead followed the Alexander Rebbe. When the Alexander passed away four years later he could no longer refuse and he led tens of thousands of Chassidim until his passing. His mastery of Torah wes legendary. He left manuscripts on all of Shas, Rambam etc. etc. But almost everything was lost in the embers of the Holocaust. Baruch Hashem we still have his commentary on Chumash, Pirkei Avos and a few masechtos [don't try learning kodshim without him].

In his commentary to Parshas Bechukosai [תרל"ה ד"ה ורדפו]he says a delightful idea. The Mishna that stresses the importance of arguing for the sake of heaven [machlokes leshem shomayim] and the mishna that stresses the importance of gathering for the sake of heaven [knessiah leshem shomayim] are juxtaposed. That teaches us that when we argue the ultimate goal should be a greater unity. Lovely.

Problem: If you look in Pirkei Avos you will see that they are not juxtaposed [nor are they next to each other]!!!


But c'mon, there must be some explanation. Someone challenged the Tolna Rebbe many years ago with this error that does not befit someone of the Sfas Emes' stature.

The Rebbe Shlita answered that if you look in AVOS D'REBBI NOSSON you will find that the two mishnyaos are in fact right next to each other.


P.S. I am already anticipating that someone will challenge the title of this post by demonstrating that even great people have made mistakes. Indeed, nobody is perfect. But we should not be QUICK to assume that a gadol made a mistake. Sometimes it is the critic who is mistaken. והמבין יבין

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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