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it is not in Heaven, so make a decision
middot decisiveness mesorah it is not in Heaven, so make a decision

it is not in Heaven, so make a decision

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

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This story is, without a doubt, a pearl to me - in fact, I would consider it a suitable bedtime story for (in the distant future) grandchildren of mine. Filled with action and a fantastic ending, this account speaks volumes to us in the realm of decision. Here we have the Sages, the brilliant minds of Israel, having a delightful halachic dispute over the purity status of an oven of a man named Achnai. Indeed, of all the minds, history states that R. Eliezer is said to have been the brightest. Truly, even in this story, it appears that Hashem agrees with R. Eliezer in his decision. But the rest of the Sages do not concur. No way.

 

We learned elsewhere: If he cut it [the oven] into separate tiles, placing sand between each tile: R. Eliezer declared it clean, and the Sages declared it unclean;and this was the oven of ‘Aknai. Why [the oven of] ‘Aknai? — Said Rab Judah in Samuel's name: "[It means] that they encompassed it with arguments as a snake, and proved it unclean."

It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them. Said he to them: "‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’" Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place - others affirm, four hundred cubits.

‘"No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,"’ they retorted.

Again he said to them: ‘"If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’" Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards.

‘"No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’" they rejoined.

Again he urged: "‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’" whereupon the walls inclined to fall.

But R. Joshua rebuked them [the walls], saying: ‘"When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have you to interfere?"’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined.

Again he said to them: "‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’" Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘"Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!"’

But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘"It is not in heaven.’" What did he mean by this? —

Said R. Jeremiah: "That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, after the majority must one incline."

R. Nathan met Elijah and asked him: "What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?" — "He laughed [with joy]," he replied, saying, ‘"My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me."’ --Talmud, Bava Metzia, 59b

But what is happening in this story that is riveting, revolutionary and epic for all of Israel?  The Torah teaches us that it is not in Heaven; when we need answers from the Torah, we need to understand them from our earthly perspective and we need to not use miracles as witnesses of right and wrong.  Neither is nature allowed to flow backwards or move at whim to bolster a decision.  No - what is to be, now and forever more, is the voice of the majority of the leading sages.  (See Deut. 30:12 and Deut. 17:8)

Whoa.  That seems bold and shocking.  That's why I think it is such a fabulous bedtime and daytime telling.  It challenges our thinking that we need to wait for the booming voice.  As R. Jeremiah alluded, we have been given the Torah and it is in our hands to keep it.  We have an informed majority and we need to press forward in holiness.  To take one person's opinion as being law would go against a basic tenet of Judaism - that ruling authorities under the leading of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) shall establish Jewish law.  Even if that means that a solitary person is "right" in G-d's eyes.

Sometimes we wait around to see nature move when we make decisions; maybe we even wish the walls would fall in our favor.  But that isn't what we can expect in the world.  Communities are made up of people -  they form a majority which defines the local customs (minhag) and religious practice (halachah) within those groupings.  When individuals place their priorities before the community, they are acting out of turn and jeopardize the special core of people that exist and whose worlds turn in that space.  Seceding from a community because of majority decisions is akin to the foot deciding to leave the body or change its function.  It isn't a very pleasant sight. Decisions need to be made with tact and concern, compassion and righteousness.

On a different note, this story also teaches us about making decisions on a personal level for ourselves.  We need to look to the majority, use the Torah and the Besorah (Gospels) as our points of information, seek good counsel and then act.  Trees are not going to uproot to prove us right in our thinking, and streams aren't going to flow backward.  We are responsible for making decisions and acting. We shouldn't hesitate to act because of trepidation, but yet we shouldn't be too hasty or bold when our decisions will affect many.

It isn't in Heaven.  It is here - it is now.  Be informed and run to action in unity for the sake of Heaven.

This story is, without a doubt, a pearl to me - in fact, I would consider it a suitable bedtime story for (in the distant future) grandchildren of mine.  Filled with action and a fantastic ending, this account speaks volumes to us in the realm of decision.  Here we have the Sages, the brilliant minds of Israel, having a delightful halachic dispute over the purity status of an oven of a man named Achnai.  Indeed, of all the minds, history states that R. Eliezer is said to have been the brightest.  Truly, even in this story, it appears that Hashem agrees with R. Eliezer in his decision.  But the rest of the Sages do not concur.  No way.
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