Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Spiritual Frailty of Man
This week's krias haTorah offers a remarkable testament to man's spiritual frailty and the vulnerability of even giants of spirit to sin.
At the beginning of the parsha the Torah speaks of the zakein momray, rebellious elder, who defies the ruling of the sanhedrin hagadol. The Torah prescribes capital punishment for him. Ramban, in his glosses to Sefer Hamitzvos, even classifies the zakein momray as a Karaite, because in his defiance of the Sanhedrin eo ipso he denies part of Torah she'b'al peh. Clearly his defiance constitutes an egregious sin. Remarkably, Chazal tell us, that only one who is ordained and otherwise authorized to pasken becomes a zaken momray and is liable for the death penalty. [Any commoner violates a Torah prohibition in defying the Sanhedrin; only a musmach is liable for capital punishment.]
To receive the original ordination and become part of the unbroken chain going back to Moseh rabbeinu one had to be ra'oy l'ho'ros b'chol haTorah kula - qualified to rule in every area of halacha. In other words, only the greatest of scholars can become a zakein momray. More pointedly, even the greatest of scholars is susceptible to sinning so egregiously.
The same sobering message appears later in the parsha as well. The Torah speaks of the navi sheker, the false prophet, whose falsehood is exposed when his alleged prophetic predictions do not materialize. As Rambam (see introduction to Peirush Hamishnayos) comments, the Torah is speaking of someone whose claim to prophecy was otherwise credible. He is someone who by virtue of his absolute self-discipline, profound Torah knowledge and complete absorption in spiritual matters is a candidate for prophecy. See Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 7:1. Otherwise his claim to nevu'ah would be obviously patently false even before any prediction was falsified.
The navi sheker is incredibly an extremely holy individual and yet he too, like the zakein momray, falls prey to sin. How extraordinary!
The Torah boldly underscores the frailty of our Spiritual attainments. Our vulnerability is not only physical, but spiritual as well. This sobering perspective invites spiritual self-vigilance. It is perennially worthy of reflection, especially during chodesh Elul.