The Torah is Not in Heaven

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus lived during the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire.  He and a group of other rabbis were once arguing over whether or not an ‘ahknai-oven was capable of becoming unclean as according to the laws of Leviticus.  The majority, led by Joshua ben Hananiah, thought that it could, but Eliezer dissented.

Eliezer protested.  “I am right and I can prove it.  If my opinion is correct, let the stream outside this house flow backwards.”  It did.

“A stream proves nothing,” said Joshua.

“If my opinion is correct, let the walls of the house lean in.”  They did.

“Some walls prove nothing,” responded Joshua.

Finally Eliezer proclaimed, “I am right, and if that is so let Heaven itself beat witness that my opinion is correct!”

And from the heavens came a voice.  “Why do you reject Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion?  He is correct on every point.”

Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah waved his hand disdainfully.  “The Torah is not in heaven.  We don’t listen to voices.”

For his opposition to the majority, an example had to be made of Eliezer, and he was excommunicated.  Thereafter he lived in retirement, although his students still visited him on occasion.

And it seems to me that the message received by his story reveals one’s views, for it is equally valid to see each rabbi as correct.  The one ignores a god who is all around him, the other clings to a religion that has no place in the secular world in which we live.

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