By Rabbi Eldad Zamir
Former shaliach TMT Cape Town 1997 -1998,
Senior Instructor at the Nativ ’Giyur” program in the IDF
In democracies as well as in Jewish law, majority rules. A Beth Din must always consist of an odd number of judges so that there will not be a hung jury.
But the fact is, sometimes the majority gets it wrong.
In this week’s parasha we read the story of the spies. Why did the people not follow the 2 good spies, Joshua and Caleb, instead of the others? The obvious answer? They were outvoted and outnumbered. 10 vs. 2 – no contest. Majority rules.
Tragically though, they backed the wrong people. And the result was an extended “holiday” in the Wilderness for them and a tragedy for all of us to this day.
So, although we may be strong democrats and believers in the democratic process, clearly, there will be times when the minority is right.
I saw that Rabbi Yossi Goldman once quoted Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen, better known as the Chafetz Chaim, who was once challenged by a fellow Jew who was a somewhat educated cynic. “Rabbi”, he argued, “doesn’t the Torah itself say that we must follow the majority? Well, the overwhelming majority of Jews today are not religious. So you religious Jews must come over to our way of thinking!”
The Chafetz Chaim replied with this story:
“Recently I had the occasion to be traveling by bus back home from an important trip. En route, the coachman distributed generous measures of vodka to his passengers to keep them warm and content. The bus driver, too, helped himself to much more vodka than he should have.
When we came to a crossroads there was confusion as to which way to turn. Most people argued that the left road was the correct path. I was one of the only sober passengers on board and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we needed to take the road to the right.
So I ask you, my friend, should I too have followed the majority? They were hopelessly drunk and their ability to judge was damaged. Thank G-d I prevailed.”
Rabbis in South Africa for example, more often then not have to hold on tightly to certain principles & values against all odds, despite the fact that everybody around them thinks and acts differently.
Let me tell you; it ain’t easy at all! I sometimes used to catch myself saying to myself: “what an arrogant person I am, how dare I think that I alone hold the truth against all the parents at the school & sometimes, against most of the people in the community? BUT, I hold on to it, because it’s the truth!
All too often the values and judgments calls of the world are simply wrong. No matter how outnumbered moral people may be, we will continue to follow the path of decency and sanity because so much of the world is intoxicated with all sorts of new ideas and their judgment is therefore spoiled.
We, Jews have never played the numbers game. Always, we have been the smallest of nations. We are not known for our majority but for our morals.
Zionism like Judaism is a basic element in our lives and we must act accordingly. As hard as it is, if we believe that Hashem gave us the laws of Kashrut, for example, for a reason, we will keep them 100% (without cutting corners or eating out). The same applies to any other mitzvah, such as keeping Shabbat properly, davening etc. So what if most people don’t do it! The majority is not always correct.
All too often it is the world that is meshuggah, going around drunkenly out of control. It takes substantial strength of character to resist the pull of the drunken majority.
Please G-d we should be men and women of principles and spirit. May we be inspired with the courage to stand up and be counted, even if it means being the lone voice in the Wilderness. Otherwise, we may never get to our destination…