Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson
stories from 'Father of Israel' in English

Controlling Flights, Directing Journeys

"So," the director began, "why does a person who asks a rabbi a halachic question have to act according to what the rabbi tells him? Don't rabbis make mistakes sometimes?"


Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Zt"l

Tevet 26 5782
Rabbi Eliyahu had an incredible knack for answering people on their level and in a way they could understand. Whenever he would meet people who were far from observant Judaism, he would search for some common link between them, be it from their community, family, or interests. Rabbi Eliyahu would use this as a point of connection, making people feel comfortable with him and that they could relate to him.
During his time as chief rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu was invited to tour Ben Gurion Airport. One of the airport's directors participated in showing the dignitaries around. When the group stopped for a break, this director approached Rabbi Eliyahu, wanting to know if he could ask a question. "It won't let me rest …," the man said, explaining why it was so urgent for him to discuss this now.
"Please," Rabbi Eliyahu said with a smile.
"So," the director began, "why does a person who asks a rabbi a halachic question have to act according to what the rabbi tells him?"
Before Rabbi Eliyahu had even gotten more than a few words out, the director interjected, "Don't rabbis make mistakes sometimes?"
"Of course," Rabbi Eliyahu answered. "Everyone can err. But it's still worthwhile to listen to a rabbi, because he often has a broader perspective and a deep base of knowledge on a topic, and he can see and know things a regular person doesn't."
The director's face clearly betrayed his dissatisfaction with that answer.
Rabbi Eliyahu continued, "Even though a person has free will, it’s a good idea to seek — and heed — the advice of a rabbi, rather than acting arbitrarily."
The director wouldn't let it rest. "But why is someone obligated? I don't understand. Let the rabbi say whatever he says and the questioner do whatever he wants."
Rabbi Eliyahu just smiled. "Wait. You'll soon understand."
The next stop on the tour was at the control tower. "This control tower is the height of a fifteen-story building," the guide informed the group. "The air-traffic controllers sit at the top, supervising all the take-offs and landings."
The group looked out the windows that surrounded the room. The runways were spread out on the ground below. "The air-traffic controllers use the height and the wide field of vision to see all the planes taking off and landing. The pilots can only see what's right in front of them, so they must follow the instructions of the air-traffic controllers, of course."
Rabbi Eliyahu turned to the airport director who had just been asking him questions. "Let's imagine a pilot sees a clear runway and requests permission to land, but the controller denies the request. Instead, he sends the pilot to a different runway. Can the pilot ignore him, do what he wants, and land on the first runway?" Rabbi Eliyahu asked.
"G-d forbid!" the director cried. "The pilot has to listen to the directions of the controllers. Their perspective is much broader. They see and know things the pilot can't possibly see from his position!"
"Listen to your own words, straight from your own mouth," Rabbi Eliyahu responded with a smile.
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