Friday, September 26, 2008

Majority Rule

A thought for the Shabbos table:

In reference to this week's parshah (Nitzavim), Midrash tells the story of Reb Eliezer ben Horkenos. In this famous incident, Reb Eliezer chose to steadfastedly teach his view of a given halacha. While his view was indeed correct, as evidenced by various occcurences, his view was in opposition to the view held by the other chachamim. After being excommunicated, Reb Eliezer came to understood the error of his ways.

The question that comes readily is what error could there be in expounding the correct view?! If something is right, it's right! Yet we all understand that often multiple truths co-exist, and this situation is certainly true of Torah itself. Moreover, this situation is precisely the reason for the dictate that the majority view in Torah is the correct one, in order to prevent both the confusion and disharmony that results from competing perspectives. To put it differently, while the Torah consists of multiple truths, one truth must prevail for a given topic, even as the validity of the countering truths is acknowledged. That is why Reb Eliezer was excommunicated: by persisting to teach his view of the given halacha, he ran counter to the dictate to must abide by the majority rule.

Views come and go in popularity, i.e., truths shift with time. The same event can be viewed differently by its participants based on their perspective at a given moment. Underlying the concept of the majority rule is that multiple views will always co-exist, but one must prevail and inform one's actions. To disobey this concept is to leave oneself open to a fracturing of the community: arguments ensure, people take sides, and a cloud of doubt develops over the majority opinion. Conversely, when the majority view is upheld, even the less popular views garner respect, because they win favour by virtue of comparison- this opinion in relation to this opinion has merit, etc.

In short, conformity to the majority view results in respect for all. We would do well to extrapolate from this and apply it to our everyday, hum-drum lives. When faced with arguing our point ad nauseum, we should rather take pause and consider the opposing view in relation to our own. When such pause is taken, often meritous characteristics of the opposing view are found. Such an application of Torah then, results in increased harmony in all our relationships- and increased wisdom. As the adage goes, wise is the man who learns from everyone (and everything).

Good Shabbos.

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