Who is to Blame?

Horayot | Rav Yonatan Rosensweig | 13 years ago

In the last Mishnah of the first perek of Horayot, we read of a dispute between three of the great Tana’im of the Mishnah:\ R’ Meir, R’ Yehuda and R’ Shimon. The Gemara goes into a lengthy explanation of their respective understandings of the halachot of Par He’alem Davar Shel Tzibur, but investigating these understandings to their absolute conclusions is beyond the scope of this d’var Torah. Instead, let us look at one single point of dispute and try to touch upon the deeper meaning of what they are saying.

The Mishnah tells us that the three argue regarding who brings the sacrifice in such a case when the Beit Din gives an erroneous ruling and the people (majority, at least) follow that ruling.\ R’ Meir holds that the Beit Din must bring the sacrifice (supplied by the people); R’ Yehuda believes that though this is true – there need to be twelve sacrifices brought in by each of the tribes of Israel and given to the Beit-Din; R’ Shimon disagrees with both and claims that besides the sacrifice brought by the Beit-Din for the sin of the people, the tribes themselves have to bring their own personal sacrifices as well.

How are we to understand these differing views? Let us start with R’ Meir. R’ Meir believes that Beit Din must take responsibility for the sins of the nation. It is true that Beit Din is responsible for each individual person within the nation, but the Torah is telling us that Beit Din also has a second roll as the Beit Din of the people as a whole. Beit Din and the nation are connected not simply because the people are made up of those individuals the Beit Din is responsible for, but rather because the nation forms an entity which enjoys a special relationship with Beit Din. As such, the Beit Din is responsible for actions the nation does due to its rulings. In short, according to R’ Meir this relationship makes it as if Beit Din were the ones who sinned.

R’ Yehuda’s view is different: Whoever heard of a case where one person has an erroneous notion, the other sins through misconception, and they are liable? Usually the mistaken notion and the mistaken action are both done by the same person – here they are divided. Can these two separate entities be truly judges with such a dichotomy existing? The Torah answers positively: We see Beit-Din and the nation as one body and judge them together – the tribes bring the sacrifices, the Beit-Din handles them.

R’ Shimon’s view is now clear as well. Indeed, we must see them as two separate entities, and therefore they both should be tried separately. The Beit-Din, due to the grievous consequences of their actions, must bring a sacrifice of their own, and the tribes too must bring their own sacrifice to atone for the sin they committed.

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