Angelic Advice


The lesson was a simple one: Don’t make important decisions without consulting others.

It is a lesson that I was first taught as a schoolchild, just beginning to study Torah. But, like so many other important lessons in life, I ignored it back then, only to finally learn it as an adult. But then, I learned it the hard way.
The lesson was a simple one: Don’t make important decisions without consulting others.
Self-confidence is a good thing, and it is typical of younger people. Sometimes, however, too much self-confidence can lead us astray so that we make choices in life without first discussing them with someone older or wiser, or even just with someone whose perspective is different from our own.
My initial exposure to this lesson was in the fourth grade. We were studying one of the earliest verses in the entire Bible, which appears in this week’s Torah portion. The verse is a deceptively simple one. It follows a passage that describes how the Almighty, having created the entire animal world, concluded that “this was good.”
He then says, “Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
Note that the Lord uses the first person plural as He contemplates creating mankind. Shouldn’t He have used the first-person singular? Whom else can the Almighty conceivably be addressing besides Himself? Dare we conclude that the One God had a partner, perhaps even several partners, in creating the human race?
These were the questions that our fourth-grade teacher, the late Theodore “Teddy” SilberAlthough we understood these questions, we were much too young to be troubled by them. But others in the course of Jewish history were profoundly troubled by these questions.
For example, the Talmud (Megillah 9a) records that in ancient times, King Ptolemy gathered 72 Jewish elders, confined each of them to separate rooms and ordered them to translate the entire Torah.
Unanimously, they carefully substituted the singular pronoun “I” for the plural pronoun “us.” They took the liberty of rendering our verse thus: “I will make man in My image, after My likeness.”
By altering the original text, they assured that King Ptolemy could never again contend that two or more gods created the world. They deprived him of the ability of finding support in our Torah for his polytheistic theology.
But the question posed by the use of the plural pronoun in verse 6 remains.
To answer it, our dear teacher excitedly paraphrased Rashi’s answer to us, in a language we could understand and in words that can I still recall almost verbatim:
“Despite the risk that the plural form would be misinterpreted by nonbelievers, Scripture did not refrain from sharing some practical common sense and prescribing a dose of humility.
“The Supreme Being consulted with His heavenly court before embarking upon an act as crucial as the creation of mankind.
“We must learn that no matter how lofty is one’s position in life, he must consult with others, even ‘lesser’ others. Don’t be blinded by your ego.”
The great 19th-century ethicist Rabbi Israel Salanter insists that one who neglects to consult others while making important decisions is not qualified to be a leader of a Jewish community. This is what he writes in one of his letters:
“He who stands firm and stubbornly maintains his original position without seeking the advice of others is prohibited from becoming a rabbi or rabbinical judge.
“If he clings to his original position and does not consider the possibility that he is in error, he is doubly negligent; not only has he stubbornly adhered to error and faulty reasoning, but he has mislead those who follow his teachings and rulings.”
There is no better way to conclude this week’s message than by quoting King Solomon, that wisest of men:
“A wise man is strength; A knowledgeable man exerts power; For by stratagems you wage war, And victory comes with many advisers.” (Proverbs 24:5-6)
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union.


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