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Thought for the Day: Taking Public Responsibility is a Game Changer

When I first got engaged (yes, I've only been engaged once, smarty), a good friend of my expressed shock and dismay.  "Are you crazy?  You barely know her!  I've been living with my girlfriend for more than two years now and I am still not sure!"  I was a little shaken, but not enough to change my plans, Baruch HaShem.  This year, בעזרת השם, I will celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary (from the first time, smarty).  My friend?  Well, he did finally get married; only to be divorced six months later.

To analyze the importance of "making it legal", so to speak, let us analyze an apparent contradiction in the script of the Wizard of Oz.  When asked to provide a brain by the scarecrow, the wizard answers:
Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma.
Yet, when asked how he could talk, the scarecrow answered:
Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking don't they?
Perhaps you feel it is an overstatement to call it a contradiction.  After all, it is two different people speaking and -- for crying out loud -- it's only a movie!  To answer in order: The scarecrow accepted the wizard as an authority, as evidenced by his ability to think and express deep thoughts upon conference of his degree by the wizard.  Therefore, the scarecrow -- who was now thinking deep thoughts -- must have resolved the contradiction and been able to answer his previous claim.  On your second complaint: deal with it; I am known to (way over-)analyze all movies; and, in fact, most things.

The resolution, I believe, is that indeed every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain.  The scarecrow's original statement must be amended: some (perhaps even most) people, do an awful lot of talking without engaging their brains.  The conference of a degree, then, attests to the fact that the degree holder is at least capable of engaging his brain.  More than that, it also attest to the fact that the degree holder actually takes pride in engaging his brain.  That is just step one.

The next step is that a degree also means that experts in the field have agreed that the degree holder has thoughts and expresses ideas that are in consonance with reality.  Chazal (Brachos 5a) describe and contrast different levels of HaShem's presence depending on the number of people learning together: 1, 2, 3, 10.  We are told that HaShem listens to even one, but that the divrei Torah of two are written.  The difference between one and two is that when one person expresses a Torah thought, his compatriot can argue.  That argumentation (explains the Maharsha), essentially forces the each thought to be vetted, and so the conclusion is more likely to be true -- hence it is written.

That's about it for a secular degree; even, say, a Ph.D.  But סמיכה takes that one giant step up.  You want to demonstrate that you understand and can answer according to halacha?  That's great.  So here's the deal: you take responsibility for not only your mistakes, but also the mistakes of anyone who asks for your p'sak.  But there's more: you have no right to shirk your duty; for you will also be charged with mistakes made by those whom you refused to help.  That's a game changer.

Getting married is more than a piece of paper; it's a declaration that we will ensure this works.  We'll work and grow and even change when need be.  We are committed to this relationship.  So too, סמיכה.  You have accepted to make this relationship with HaShem work.  You'll work and grow... and even change.  And what do you get in exchange for all that?  Just eternity.


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