In his preface to his ‘Shemoneh Perakim’, the Rambam urges us to ‘accept the truth [regardless of] which person said it’, and while this is an excellent piece of advice in all situations, the reason for me mentioning it here is in response to an exchange between Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchak and Rabbi Abba found in today’s daf (Sukkah 3a).
Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchak taught that, ‘the halacha is that [a sukkah] must be [of sufficient] capacity for someone’s head, most of [their body], and their table [to fit inside].’ However, Rabbi Abba challenged Rav Shmuel, stating that this position is [seemingly] identical to that of Beit Shammai who, in contrast to Beit Hillel, ruled (in Mishna Sukkah 2:7) that someone ‘whose head and most of [their body] was in the sukkah, while their table was in their house’ does not fulfil the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah while eating.
For Rabbi Abba, the very idea that Rav Shmuel would rule in accordance with Beit Shammai was apparently impossible for him to compute. In one version of their exchange, he responds with bewilderment saying, ‘according to WHO [are you ruling]? Like BEIT SHAMMAI?!’, to which Rav Shmuel replied, ‘according to who [should I rule when I consider Beit Shammai correct in this case]?’, while in another version of their exchange, Rabbi Abba asked Rav Shmuel, ‘who told you this ruling?’ to which Rav Shmuel responded, ‘It is [the opinion of] Beit Shammai, and do not budge from it!’. Significantly, both in this and a number of other cases, we do rule in accordance with Beit Shammai.
Yet notwithstanding the timeless advice of the Rambam, as well as this clear example where Rav Shmuel protests ‘according to who [should I rule when I consider Beit Shammai correct in this case]!?’, there are many people who would rather ignore the opinions of particular individuals or certain institutions because they have convinced themselves that ‘everything’ that such-and-such a person or institution has to say must ‘automatically’ be wrong.
Such ‘baseless’ rejection – which is sadly so prevalent today – not only increases the deep fractures and divisions within communities and in society, but it also deprives us of wisdom and truths that would likely enrich and enhance our lives, our communities, and society in general.
Given this, as we approach Tisha B’Av on which we mourn the destruction of the Temple and meditate on the harm caused by baseless hatred (see Yoma 9b), perhaps it is time to recommit ourselves to Rambam’s principle and try a little harder to give credence to wisdom and truth which – until now – we may have dismissed baselessly.