Rabbi Natan Slifkin writes in an essay in memory of his mentor, Rabbi Aryeh Carmel, ztz”l:
Rav Carmell also taught me the corollary of “Accept the truth from wherever it comes,” which is “Reject falsehood from wherever it comes.” About twelve years ago, he rejected a halachic explanation that I had written in a manuscript on the grounds that it simply didn’t make sense. I protested that I was simply presenting the view of one of the Acharonim. Rav Carmell replied that one must be very wary of accepting something merely on the grounds that it was stated by a great authority if it does not make sense. As it happens, I went back and checked the sefer again, and it turned out that I had misunderstood what it stated. But the lesson remained with me; and I recently noticed that Rav Chaim of Volozhin, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, comments that even if one’s own rebbe states something that does not seem to make sense, it is forbidden to accept it.
Soon after becoming Orthodox, I was in shul in St. Paul for Shabbos. After davening, the shul had a prolonged kiddush. In those days, about half of the members who attended were old timers, Litvaks and MOs, children of hasidim who came to America immediately after the war, second and even third generation locals. The other half was made up of Chabad BTs with and the five or so Chabad rabbis who lived in Minnesota.
The custom was that the first half hour of the kiddush was pareve. The Rebbe would of course be mentioned, but the context was such that it was non-threatening to the non-Chabadniks, who rarely stayed more than 30 minutes at any kiddush. After that, the kiddush turned into an hasidishe farbrengen.
I was standing at one of these farbrengens waiting for my Shabbos host. As was customary, the Chabadniks were reading a summary of the Rebbe’s talk at last week’s Crown Heights farbrengen. “You see,” said a rabbi, the “Rebbe is endorsing prayer in public schools. He’s calling for it explicitly!” The Chabadniks were happy with this bit of news. I wasn’t, in large part because I believed it to be false. I spoke up.
“The Rebbe can’t be calling for prayer in the public schools,” I said. “If he is, that means Jewish children will be subjected to Christian prayer mentioning Jesus, Muslim prayer – even idol worship and cults like Hare Krishna and Satanism. You all went to private religious schools…You don’t realize what this means. There must be a mistake. The Rebbe may be calling for a moment of silence, but I doubt he wants public prayer.” I then briefly explained the difference between the two.
“OOOOOOOOOOhhhh, I’m sure the Rebbe should have asked you first!” said one Chabad rabbi, followed by snickering and peels of laughter from him and others.
“No,” I replied, “what you say the Rebbe said makes no sense. If he said it that would be a problem, but I doubt he did. I don’t think you understand whatever it is the Rebbe actually said.”
The hasidim went back to farbrenging, shooting me occasional dirty looks. The rest of Shabbos passed uneventfully.
The next week I’m again in shul and, sure enough, my Shabbos host stays for the farbrengen. I’m about to leave when a Chabad rabbi starts to summarize the Rebbe’s talk from the previous week. The Rebbe, it seems, had issued a correction – of sorts. To paraphrase, the Rebbe said, what I said last week was misunderstood. He then went on to say that he was calling for a moment of silence, not public prayer, and he explained the difference between the two, closely paralleling what I had said the previous week.
Not one hasid, not one Chabad rabbi, apologized for their obnoxious behavior the week before. No one acknowledged that I had been correct. It was then I knew that, at the very least, the local hasidim were broken.