Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. Deuteronomy 17:11
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means "judges," from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12-52:12.
There was once a fighter pilot who suffered from the sudden onset of vertigo during a dangerous operation. As the lead pilot of the fighter jet squadron, he had the job of shooting out flares in order to illuminate targets. He then would fly to a higher altitude while the two planes alongside him would strike the targets.
During this particular night, as the pilots were flying hundreds of miles per hour in complete darkness, the pilot shot the flares, but then the vertigo set in and he began flying upside-down. Thinking that he was still right-side-up, he pulled the lever which he thought would lift him higher, but instead sent him plummeting lower toward the ground.
The plane's systems starting beeping, indicating that the plane was losing altitude. The pilot, still sure that he was upright, ignored the warning thinking it was broken. Then the second warning went off and started beeping, "You are upside down!" At that point the pilot radioed the two jets flying with him and asked them to check their radars on his position. The pilots confirmed that he was upside down and about to crash. The pilot hesitantly pulled the yoke, bringing the plane back over, allowing for a safe landing. Those wingmen had saved his life.
In this week's Torah portion, we read, "Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left." The Israelites were commanded to accept the decisions of priests and judges assuming, of course, they were righteous to begin with no questions asked. In fact, even if the decision seemed wrong and unreasonable, it still had to be followed exactly, not even veering slightly "to the right or to the left."
Some might read this commandment and question our right to reason and think on our own. Are we required to blindly follow our leaders?
I think the answer can be found in the story above. Yes, we need to listen to our heart, our minds, and our instincts. However, at the same time, we need to recognize that just as the pilot was struck with vertigo, sometimes we can get confused and see things from the wrong perspective. In short, we are human and we can make mistakes.
The Jewish sages taught, "Make yourself a spiritual leader and acquire for yourself a friend." As we soar through life, it's important to have "wingmen" by our side. We need their opinions, advice, and warnings in order to keep us on the proper path.
Who are the wingmen in your life? To whom do you play the role of a "wingman"?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President