The first Mishnah in the twenty-fourth Perek of Masechet Shabbat (Mi SheHechshich) states that one who is carrying a load on Friday afternoon when nightfall and Shabbat arrive should give his packages to a non-Jew in order to avoid the prohibition of Hotza’ah, carrying; if there is no non-Jew with him, he may put them on his donkey. The Gemara goes on to discuss further scenarios, such as giving the load to a deaf person, an insane person, or a child in the absence of a donkey or a non-Jew. However, if all of these options are not feasible, what is the proper course of action? Rabi Yitzchak answers that one may carry the package fewer than four Amot, place it on the ground, pick it back up, and repeat the process until he reaches the city’s limits. The Mishnah does not offer this solution originally because this leniency may lead someone to carry four Amot in the Reshut HaRabbim, public domain, a direct violation of Hotza’ah. The Gemara (Shabbat 153b) then quotes a Tosefta containing two takes from Tannaim on this Gezeirah, decree, of banning the final method unless the person has no other options. Rabi Eliezer states, “Bo BaYom Gadshu Se’ah,” “On that day they overfilled the measure.” Rashi explains that this means that passing decrees is a positive action since decrees “increase the fences [safeguards]” of the Jews. Rabi Yehoshua asserts that “Bo BaYom Machaku Se’ah,” “On that day they made the measure deficient.” Because the sages did not reveal this previously Halachically acceptable method, it became increasingly likely that Jews would come to sin.
Another Hashkafah-related Machloket between Rabi Eliezer and Rabi Yehoshua can be found in Bava Metzia (59b). The Chachamim and Rabi Eliezer debate the status of a Tanur Shel Achnai – an oven made of removable pieces. Rabi Eliezer contends that the oven does not accept Tum’ah, whereas the Chachamim say it does. Over the course of the Machloket, Rabi Eliezer offers many proofs for his opinion and even brings miracles as proofs, such as a tree flying out of the ground, waters flowing backwards, and the walls of the Beit Midrash beginning to collapse. The Chachamim, with Rabi Yehoshua as their “spokesman,” do not accept any of these proofs. Eventually, a Bat Kol, heavenly voice, states that the Halachah is in accordance with Rabi Eliezer’s opinion. Rabi Yehoshua responds by quoting the Pasuk of “Lo BaShamayim Hi,” “The Torah is not in heaven,” and therefore, once the Torah is given to Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai, even a decree straight from Hashem cannot alter this Halachic discourse. Rabi Natan then meets Eliyahu HaNavi, who informs him that Hashem is laughing, saying “Nitzchuni Banai,” “My sons have ‘defeated’ Me (or, made My Torah eternal).” Following this incident, the Chachamim place Rabi Eliezer in Cheirem, excommunication, for continuing to oppose the majority of the Sages. From the conclusion of this second event, we see that Rabi Yehoshua is more correct than Rabi Eliezer regarding the authority of the Chachamim. This may shed light on the first teaching, as well. Rabi Yehoshua may have been correct in his Machloket with Rabi Eliezer concerning the Gezeirah against carrying a load fewer than four Amot at a time.
What, however, is the underlying reason for the Machloket between the two Tanna’im in regard to rabbinical authority? Rav Yosef Adler, the Rosh Yeshiva at TABC, presented a Shiur, which is very pertinent to this issue. Rabi Eliezer is known throughout Shas as “HaShamuti,” a title due to the fact that he is put in Cheirem or the fact that he is very well known for following Beit Shammai instead of Beit Hillel. Rabi Yehoshua, on the other hand, typically follows Beit Hillel. Rav Adler stated that often, the underlying argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is one of Hashkafah. Beit Shammai approaches Halachah as strictly following the laws in the way they would be followed in a theoretical, ideal world, whereas Beit Hillel accepts that theory does not always work in our world, and Pesak Halachah must have a degree of practical consideration. These underlying viewpoints almost always have a hand in the rulings of the two groups. For example, in Masechet Chagigah, the Mishnah discusses a Machloket between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding the Olat Re’iyah and the Shalmei Chagigah. When one makes Aliyah LeRegel on one of the Shalosh Regalim, he must bring an Olat Re’iyah – a Korban entirely consumed on the Mizbeiach – and Shalmei Chagigah, which he and his family eat. If one has three coins and two animals are available, one worth two coins and one worth one coin, which should he purchase for the Olat Re’iyah and which for the Shalmei Chagigah? Beit Shammai rules that the animal for the Olat Re’iyah should be more expensive, because in a purely theoretical world, one would spend more for Hashem than he would for himself. Beit Hillel states that one should spend more for the Shalmei Chagigah so he can feed his family more food on the Chag. This thought process may also be applied to Rabi Yehoshua and Rabi Eliezer. Rabi Eliezer, who rules according to Beit Shammai, is more in favor of issuing more decrees for Klal Yisrael, even though they might be difficult for the Jews to keep, as well as accepting the Halachah straight from Hashem instead of the Chachamim. Rabi Yehoshua, however, keeps in mind the practical concerns of the Jews, considering whether the decrees would make it more difficult for them to worship Hashem, as well as noting that in order to have a society with proper structure and order, it is important to always follow the rabbis of the generation. It is important to note that we, with very few exceptions, follow Beit Hillel’s Pesak Halachah. When issuing rulings, it is crucial that rabbis consider the people’s circumstances and situations at the time of their decisions and stringent decrees should be made only when necessary.
A fellow Talmid of mine this summer at Morasha Kollel, Elihu Abbe, suggested the following connection between these thoughts and Parashat Ha’azinu. The Pasuk states, “She’al Avicha VeYageidcha Zekeinecha VeYomeru Lach,” “Ask your father and he will relate it to you, and your elders and they will tell you” (Devarim 32:7). The expression of “Higid” generally connotes a harsher, stronger tone than “Amar (see Rashi to Shemot 19:3)” Thus, the younger, more inexperienced generation will give a harsher ruling, whereas the older, wiser generation will issue a more practical one. It is very important to listen to our rabbis, and hopefully, they will make good decisions.