The Dangers of Tunnel Vision

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zy”a, once made a remark about a statement in a sefer written by a contemporary author, one that the Rebbe found deeply distressful. The author wrote that a statement of the Pnei Yehoshua appeared to contradict a Tosafos, remarking, “The Pnei Yehoshua overlooked the Tosafos.”

The Rebbe contrasted this with a statement made by Harav Akiva Eiger, who asks about a Pnei Yehoshua that seems to contradict a Tosafos. “I did not merit to understand; may Hashem enlighten me,” Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes.

Harav Akiva Eiger was born only five years after the petirah of the Pnei Yehoshua, yet he writes with the greatest reverence and respect. This contemporary author lived a century later, yet he chose to make an acutely disrespectful assumption.

The Klausenberger Rebbe explained the difference.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger knew every Tosafos in Shas, and he reasoned that if he knew every Tosafos, the Pnei Yehoshua certainly did. So he attributed what appeared to be a contradiction to his own failure to understand. On the other hand, the Rebbe said, the contemporary author only knew the first few blatt of a handful of masechtos. He assumed that just as he did not know most of the Tosafos in Shas, neither did the Pnei Yehoshua!

*   *   *

The way we look at others, as well as the way we look at life in general, is shaped either by our own limitations or by the recognition of these limitations.

Much of the refusal to recognize authority exhibited by some — including the prescient wisdom of daas Torah — stems from this weakness. Those who choose to disparage and attack Gedolim and Rabbanim, whether on street corners or in infamous blogs, are so blinded by their own egos that they fail to realize that their attitude is based on tunnel vision. It is so inconceivable to them that someone could be greater than they, or know better than they, that they feel free to pass judgment and then seek to discredit Torah scholars.

This week we learn about the first time Moshe Rabbeinu encountered Dasan and Aviram. As he observed their quarrel and saw one prepare to strike the other, Moshe sought to reprimand him. “Why would you strike your fellow?”

The retort hurled back at Moshe was characteristic of the approach Dasan and Aviram exhibited throughout the long decades that followed: “Who made you a man, a ruler, and a judge over us?”

The notion that Moshe Rabbeinu’s intervention stemmed solely from his deeply rooted ahavas Yisrael was inconceivable to the likes of Dasan and Aviram. These rabble-rousing rogues judged Moshe’s intention in the worst possible light because they were able to view it only through the prism of their own evil perspective.

Moshe Rabbeinu represented the diametrically opposite approach. He was one of the few people in the history of the world who merited to have Hashem address him directly, and he had the singular honor to have the Creator of the world instruct him to be the messenger to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. Yet he initially did all he could to decline, begging that another, more worthy individual be sent in his place.

Later on, after he met with Pharaoh, who proceeded to increase the suffering of Bnei Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem: “Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?”

The meforshim explain that Moshe Rabbeinu blamed himself for what he perceived as the failure of his mission. “Why have You sent me?” he asked. He felt that someone worthier would have been successful.

The Imrei Emes offers another explanation. He relates that in the time of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, zy”a, an evil decree was enacted against the Jews. One of the other tzaddikim of the generation fasted and afflicted himself, seeking to abolish it. The Rebbe Reb Elimelech instructed him to stop afflicting himself, saying that after his petirah he would see to it that the decree was removed.

The Rebbe Reb Elimelech was niftar, but the decree remained in place. He subsequently appeared to the other tzaddik in a dream and told him that what seems in the temporal world to be an evil decree appears otherwise in Shamayim — for the closer one is to Hashem, the more evident is the true good that lies within it.

“Why have You sent me?” Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem. Because he was so close to Hashem, he understood the hidden good of what was transpiring and was therefore unable to daven for it to be abolished.

May we all merit to look beyond ourselves and see the wider picture.