Rabbi Can Make A Mistake?!

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah vol. 3 #21]
Question: I have been teaching Torah and serving in the Rabbinate for twenty years, and I belong to the Ultra-Orthodox sector. I happened upon a book from one of the students of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, I read it out of curiosity and also in order to publicly prove his mistake, but the opposite occurred and I saw that he speaks the truth. I learned other books from his stream of thought, and I reached the clear conclusion that during all of the years I was mistaken in my relationship to the Land of Israel and Zionism. One question bothers me: How can I follow a different path than my Rabbi, for I am full of respect and love for him, since I owe everything to him? Moreover, how can it be possible to imagine that so many great Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis erred? I am willing to say this about myself, but not about them.
Answer: I commend you for your integrity. It should only be that we should all learn how to admit the truth. To get to the heart of the matter, this question has been dealt with in many books, among them "Geulat Yisrael" by Rabbi Avraham Yelin, who was a brilliant Sage, although not well-known. Yet for his book he had approbations from the Admor of Ostrovtza and from Maran Ha-Rav Kook. In addition, his book "Erech Apayim" was very well-known.
Rabbi Yelin wrote: "Some claim that once someone has accepted a particular person as his rabbi, and that rabbi is opposed to Zionism, one must teach in accordance with that view so as not to violate the prohibition against "straying to the right or to the left from what they tell you" (Devarim 17:11). That is a mistake, however, for that verse is referring to theGreat Sanhedrin" (Geulat Yisrael, page 15). Quite the contrary, if it appears to a disciple that his rabbi has erred, he must ask him about this and argue with him until his rabbi changes his mind (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 242). There are numerous examples in the Talmud and the Poskim [Halachic decisors] of disciples disagreeing with their rabbis (page 15). Regarding the issue of Eretz Yisrael itself, we find that Rabbi Yehudah was one of the illustrious giants of his generation, and he ruled that it is forbidden to move fromBabylonia to Eretz Yisrael (Ketubot 110a). His disciple, Rabbi Zeira, disagreed with him and moved there (ibid.), as did his disciple Rabbi Abba (Berachot 24b and Geulat Yisrael, pp.15-16). He points out in the name of Rabbi Akiva Eiger that in our times, following the invention of the printing press, books have been disseminated throughout the world, and it is possible for there to be a student who studies books that his rabbi never studied, such that the student knows more than his rabbi (page 16). He likewise quotes Maharal Mi-Plotzk who saidthat if an illustrious rabbi knows the whole Torah, yet has not toiled to understand a particular law, and a lesser rabbi does not know the whole Torah yet has toiled to understand that particular law, the latter can better arrive at the truth, such that we will rule according to the lesser rabbi (Shut Meshivat Nefesh 16 and Geulat Yisrael, page 3).
As far as your wondering how it is possible for so many great rabbis to err regarding something so simple, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, wrote to a great Charedi Rabbi: "I was pained by what your esteemed self wrote some time ago in regard to G-d's great and awesome deed in rebuilding His Nation and inheritance and gathering in His scattered ones, and in regard to the Zionism that is associated with this. It is clear that you are absolutely mistaken regarding those matters. What you wrote is like what Ra'avad wrote in Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 3, about the many rabbis greater than himself who followed a particular line of thought" (Le-Hilchot Tzibbur #6).
Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, is referring to Rambam's words that whoever says that G-d has a body is a "min" (an apostate), and to Ra'avad's response that Rambam is reacting too sharply to the great rabbis of Israel who thought that way. Here we have great rabbis who made an enormous error.
A question obviously remains: What made these illustrious rabbis err regarding the rebirth of our Nation? Rabbi Yelin responds that the true reason is found in the words of theillustrious and holy Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher from Greiditz, who was blessed with "Ruach Ha-Kodesh," Divine intuition. Rabbi Gutmacher was among the first to raise the idea ofagricultural settlement in Eretz Yisrael. He wrote to the illustrious saint Rabbi Elazar Wachs, suggesting the reason for the opposition: "The main cause of the opposition is that even in the greatest saints evil takes control to nullify this goodness. The whole force of evil is dependent upon this" (from a letter quoted in the book "Nefesh Ha-Chayah"). The author of "Chidushei Ha-Rim" wrote similarly regarding the sin of the spies ("Sefer Ha-Zechut" in Parashat Beshalach and "Geulat Yisrael," pp. 8-9).
Rabbi Yelin mentions that sometimes even the prophets erred.
Moshe erred regarding the goat of the sin offering, and as a result of that, he became angry with Elazar and Itamar (Vayikra 10). Yehoshua bin Nun erred regarding the Givonim (Yehoshua 9); the Prophet Shmuel erred when he was going to anoint one of the sons of Yishai and he wished to anoint the wrong one (Shmuel 1 16). Yerovam ben Navat succeeded in tricking the Prophet Achiyah Ha-Shiloni into giving his approval to idolatry (Sanhedrin 102a and Geulat Yisrael, p. 9).
Regarding settling the Land itself, the Torah says that "the whole community threatened to stone [Yehoshua and Calev] to death" (Ba-Midbar 14:10), and Rashi on 14:1 says that the phrase "the whole community" connotes the Sanhedrin. As Chiddushei Ha-Rim of Ger explains, the Sanhedrin argued that Eretz Yisrael would corrupt them (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9). During Ezra's times, the vast majority of the great rabbis opposed his going up to the Land on the pretext that Eretz Yisrael would cause the Jews to worship idols (Midrash Rabbah on Shir Ha-Shirim 5:3).
"The greatest saints handed over the Rambam's works to Christian priests to burn... Many illustrious rabbis fanned the flames of controversy, persecuting and inciting against our master Rabbi Yehonatan Eibschutz, the holy Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto and our teacher the Ba'al Shem Tov" (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9).
"We have likewise heard about one mistake put in writing by a brilliant, holy rabbi. Due to the author's greatness, the Charedim struggled to understand what he had written, and the holy Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk, who was a great lover of truth, said in this regard that the truth that emerged from here was that it showed the author that even he was only human" (ibid.).
Rabbi Yelin was apparently referring here to what the Maharal Mi-Prague wrote, that there is a difference between two Hebrew words that both mean "with him": "Imo" and "Ito", and that when Abraham took his two lads "with him" the Torah refers to this with "Imo," whereas when Bilam took his two lads "with him" the Torah uses "Ito." Truthfully, however, in the Torah it is the opposite (see Bereshit 22:3 and Ba-Midbar 22:22). The Maggid Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz wrote an answer to this problem (printed in "Be'er HaGolah," p. 155). Yet the Kotzker Rebbe, who had enormous admiration for the Maharal, said that even an illustrious rabbi can err.
Rabbi Yelin concludes, "From all this we can conclude that even a great and saintly rabbi can make a mistake... The truth is that even the greatest rabbis amongst the opponents have no correct knowledge on this issue" (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9). Thus, how fortunate you are to have merited to attain the truth from great rabbis who did not err, faithful emissaries of the Supreme King of Kings.