Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

The Impeachment of President Trump and the Demotion of Rabbon Gamliel: A Study in Contrasts

Obviously, there is no comparison. One is a mere human being who happens to occupy the highest office in the land. The other is a kedosh elyon, a pillar of Torah Shebaal Peh and our eternal teacher in the holiest of dimensions, the chain of Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu. Furthermore, Rabbon Gamliel’s “opponents” in this event were also the greatest Tannaim, who virtually saved Klal Yisrael in the difficult years right after the churban Bais Hamikdosh.

Yet, as the Maharal often teaches us, devorim gedolim einom b’mikra, great things are never coincidental. A good deal of Klal Yisroel learned the saga of Rabbon Gamliel’s removal from the nesius of Klal Yisroel – essentially the formal leadership of the nation – in the Daf Yomi (Brachos 27) of last Friday. One of the major Rishonim, the Nemukei Yosef, enumerates 16 original takeaways (“I have written this from my heart”) from this “seminal event” (Rav Reuvein Margoliyos, Yesod HaMishnah Va’arichasa, page 51). In the process, he offers us timeless solutions to countless issues facing society and daily personal situations.

To briefly review the relevant facts, the Gemara describes a halachic disagreement between the Tannaim, Rabbon Gamliel and Rav Yehoshua. Despite the fact that in the past, Rav Yehoshua, who was the av bais din, and Rabbon Gamliel, who was the nosi, had publicly disagreed (Bava Kamma 74b), with Rabbon Gamliel accepting the controversy in the usual spirit of appropriate machlokes, this time was different. Following a pattern enumerated in two other places (Bechoros 36a and Rosh Hashanah 25a), Rabbon Gamliel seemed to refuse any dissent toward his opinion. Although Rabbon Gamliel did this to prove the authority of the Torah leadership, not for his personal honor, eventually the sages of the day demoted him from his position. As Rav Margoliyos notes, this event had “far-reaching ramifications” for the history of the Talmud and Torah Shebaal Peh. Most of that is not relevant to this discussion. However, what is extremely pertinent is how the sages treated Rabbon Gamliel in this delicate process.

The seventh of the Nemukei Yosef’s lessons is the most applicable to our situation: “It is appropriate to choose the method that is the most decent toward the one being judged.” He proves his point from the fact that Rav Yehoshua would have been the most natural choice to succeed Rabbon Gamliel as nosi, but he was immediately rejected. This was because since he was the one who had suffered Rabbon Gamliel’s displeasure, it would have hurt Rabbon Gamliel excessively, so it would have been wrong to add this insult to injury.

We must notice the sharp contrast with what has happened, lehavdil, to President Trump for over three years of false allegations and accusations. Dozens of charges, recriminations and insults have been hurled at him on a daily basis by his political and personal foes. Our sages took care of all of it bo bayom, that very day. Nothing was prolonged or festered; nothing was exaggerated or embellished. There were no insults or innuendos, only the facts, and even those were presented with respect and honor. If giants like the Tannaim had the sensitivity of treating a defendant so humanely, can we not expect mere imperfect mortals to temper their conclusions and deprecations? Surely not one of them is above any of the calumny they have inveighed against the president. The criticism hurled at Senator McCarthy, “Have you no shame?” certainly comes to mind. Sadly, this admonition must be aimed at some of our Jewish brethren who have sought to ignore that the president has been the most benevolent American leader in history toward Israel and our people.

Interestingly, in the case of Rabbon Gamliel, there is some debate about what was actually done to him. The Gemara (Brachos ibid. and Yerushalmi, Moed Koton 3:1) expresses concern about demoting one of the sages from his position, and indeed some meforshim (Yesod HaMishnah, page 54) are of the opinion that Rav Elozor ben Azariah never became nosi, only reish mesivta). According to this view, Rabbon Gamliel was never actually “impeached.” He merely lost one of his titles, since in most previous generations, the nosi was also the reish mesivta and his colleague was the av bais din (see ArtScroll commentary to Brachos 27b, note 20 from Doros Harishonim). If we were to attempt to extrapolate from this important case history, we would conclude for the future, since the damage is already done from the present impeachment in the House, that for the sake of the country, not just for the individual, the dignity of those elevated by the people must be preserved. Partisan politics, personal preferences and enmities should be kept out of all national deliberations. Of course, it is impossible to demand such lofty ideals of mere mortals, but at least we should easily spot where the process has gone awry. When one party spends years trying repeatedly and unsuccessfully to discover non-existent “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the sole constitutional criterion for impeachment, the process has obviously been high-jacked for venal purposes.

We should note that Rav Meir Greineman, a nephew of the Chazon Ish zt”l, takes the position (Imrei Yosher, Brachos, page 83) that the sages were dealing with a difficult conundrum. On the one hand, “maalin bakodesh v’ein moridin,” we are not permitted to lower someone’s status in kedusha. On the other hand, they had already appointed Rav Elozor ben Azariah and Hashem had performed a miracle on his behalf (the eighteen rows of white hairs in his beard). They therefore decided that Rabbon Gamliel and Rav Elozor ben Azariah should share the leadership, which they indeed did with humility and mutual respect (see also Drashos of Rav Yaakov Emden, Hakeshurim LeYaakov, page 194). That is the Torah way, and it has sadly not been the path we have witnessed in these difficult days.

Since by the time this is published, we hope that the president has been exonerated by the Senate, we can only offer him some consolation and Torah advice. What did Rabbon Gamliel do after his role was diminished? The sages arranged for a compromise, whereby Rabbon Gamliel gave the shiur three weeks out of four and Rav Elozor ben Azariah one week. During this entire period, the Gemara testifies that Rabbon Gamliel did not absent himself a single day from the mesivta at Yavneh. They all made peace with each other and the Torah became even stronger than before.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l (Sichos Mussar 5732, No. 36) goes even further. He points out that it was not only in the situation of the holy Tannaim that the Torah was solicitous of everyone’s honor. Even when the 250 rebels attempted to wrest the leadership from Moshe and Aharon, they were treated with dignity to the end. The Me’iri (Brachos ibid.) points out that Aharon was not the one to raise the pans in victory over them for that would have been an improper display of revenge and personal triumph. Rav Chaim makes the powerful point that we, too, should always maintain the proper kavod habriyos – human dignity – not to revel in victory.

We wish the president the strength and wisdom to rise to this august occasion. He can be bigger and greater than his tormentors, unifying the country under the banner of all the accomplishments he has already made and the new initiatives he will offer. This is the true taste of victory, being able to show genuine courage, grace and magnanimity even to those who have tried to destroy him. This is a tall order, but we believe that he is up to the task.



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