Torah or the Law of the Land

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Devarim 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Which takes precedence - the Torah or the law? Which is more important? Surely there’s no question! Doesn’t the Torah override all else? Isn’t G-d’s word the root and source of all?
Answer: Certainly G-d’s word overrides all else. Yet G-d’s word tells you: Respect the law! The laws of the King of England, the laws of the America. The kingdom’s law is the law. If you don’t like the laws of a country, you’re free to leave.
This applies all the more so to the laws of Israel, the laws of the Israeli Government, the laws of the Israeli Parliament. Obviously I’m not going to tell you that if you don’t like the laws here you can leave, but I am going to tell you that even if you don’t like the laws, you should stay, because this is your country. But keep the law! Even if the king is no saint, but wicked like Ahab, his laws are still binding (Tosafot, Sanhedrin 20a).
Such is the will of the Supreme King of Kings that the laws of the kingdom should take precedence (Derashot Ha-Ran 11). See the long responsum of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook that the agreed-upon ruler of the nation is to be classified as a king
(Mishpat Cohain 337-338). Yet the truth is that even without the rulings of our medieval and more recent sages, we would know this. For what alternative is there if there is no law and no rule? Chaos. Civil War. The Jungle. The Wild West. Might makes right. Therefore, “one should pray for the welfare of the kingdom. If people did not revere it, they would swallow one another alive” (Avot, chapter 3).
Yet we say that law and order have not only utilitarian worth, but spiritual, halachic, divine worth as well. See also Ein Aya (Berachot 89), regarding the four types of people [who have undergone life-threatening experiences and] who must thank G-d. One of them is the person who has returned from the desert, a place where there is no governmental law and order. That person suddenly understands the value of such law and order, and joyfully undertakes the restrictions of the law.
So please! Respect the law and honor the law’s representatives joyfully.
The story is told of a student of the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva who was arrested by a policeman due to a legal infraction while driving. Just at that moment, our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the head of the yeshiva, passed by. The student turned to his Rosh Yeshiva and asked him to talk to the policeman on his behalf. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda told the policeman, “Give him a ticket!”
You might ask: Is every law really the law?! Even laws that go against the Torah?! Is a law the law even if Hitler made it?!
I was waiting for that demagogic question. Certainly there are exceptions. Every person with a head on his shoulders understands that. Even the Halachah itself nhas exceptions, and even a great Torah scholar must drive his wife to the hospital on Shabbat so she can give birth. Yet we don’t let exceptional cases ruin all the conventional ones.
It’s true that Hitler made laws, yet that doesn’t render the very concept of laws to be invalid. The Nuremberg Laws are invalid. Yet in principle, law is not invalid. Your implied claim is called Reductio Ad Hitlerum, a false syllogism in which one invalidates something because Hitler ascribed to it.
Please stop placing the Torah above the law! In this game, which occupies the two extremes, with one side placing the Torah on a pedestal and the other side placing the law on a pedestal, there is an unholy alliance in which the unity of the nation is torn to smithereens.
When we say that the Torah is above the law, we don’t mean that the Torah is a dictator who smashes and tramples his subjects. Rather, the Torah should be providing a soul to the law, morality to the law, lending weight to the law and rendering it more savory. And obviously, the Torah should also facilitate critical review of the law, while exalting and refining it.
Yes, the law is the law, and not because the law stands above the Torah, but because the Torah teaches us that we must keep the law. That is a Halachah, and obviously, we can be strict in this as well…