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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Learn Gemara - Part V - Addendum I

In the previous post we discussed the view that through learning Torah one is connecting to God's Mind. The question that was raised was "how can we claim that the Torah is God's Mind when much of the Torah is based on human interpretation?!" The first approach answers that human cognition, especially when contemplating wisdom or Torah, is guided by Divine inspiration.

The next question, then, is "how does one know if one's ideas are in accordance with the Divine Mind and not a product of one's own self (see Bava Batra 12b which is bothered by this question)?" To this I present two approaches:

I. The Acceptance of Israel

If Israel accepts a certain work, especially a halakhic work, then we know post-facto that it was written with Divine inspiration. R. Yaakov Elman (Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah, pgs. 242-250) quotes many sources that maintain this view, especially R. Yonasan Eibescheutz (Urim veTumim, kitzur tekafo kohen, nn.123-124), R. Tzadok ha'Kohen (Machesevet Charutz 6a-b), and R Yisrael Dov Ber of Zledniki (Shereit Yisrael 6c). This has practical implication; a work written with Divine inspiration contains multiple levels of meaning (Pardes, Shivim Panim etc.). See Avakesh for a discussion of this.

II. Philosophic-mystical approach

For this section I will only quote others who have actually experienced a quasi-mystical experience when learning.

R. Avraham Yitzchak Bloch hy"d (Shiurei Da'at, pg. 7) describes the experience of learning in depth - a trait associated with all of the Roshei Yeshivos of Telz, from Reb Lazer Gordon to R. Mordechai Gifter.

"It is possible for every person to become conditioned in the ways of thinking in Torah - with depth and exhausting labor until one reaches the end of the matter. When a person delves into a matter he connects himself to Wisdom itself and becomes completely removed from outside infleunces and views. To reach this state clarity of faith in Hashem is required; a person must feel the Existence of Hashem as the source of Wisdom. Through this it is possible to feel Wisdom as having self-sufficient and independent existence. At this point seclusion with Wisdom is seclusion with the Creator Himself."

Upon seeing this quote I immediatly recalled a quote from Roger Penrose:

"Almost all my mathematical thinking is done visually and in terms of non-verbal concepts...Often there are simply not the words available to express the concepts required...A common experience, when some colleague would try to explain some piece of mathematics to me, would be that I should listen attentively, but almost totally uncomprehending of the logical connections between one set of words and the next. However, some guess image would form in my mind as to the ideas he was trying to convey - formed entiely on my own terms and seemingly with very little connection with the mental images that had been the basis of my colleague's own understanding - and I would reply. Rather to my astonishment, my own remarks would usually be accepted as appropriate, and the conversation would proceed to and fro in this way...

"...I imagine that whenever the mind perceives a mathematical idea, it makes contact with Plato's world of mathematical concepts...When one 'sees' a mathematical truth, one's consciousness break through into this world of ideas, and makes direct contact with it...[T]his 'seeing' is the essence of mathematical understanding. When mathematicians communicate, this is made possible by each one having a direct route to truth, the consciousness of each being in a position to perceive mathematical truths directly, through this process of seeing (indeed, often this act of perception is accompanied by words like 'Oh, I see!'). Since each can make contact wit PLato's world directly, they can more readily communicate with each other than one might have expected (pgs. 424-427)."

Lastly, on a slightly different note, I quote from the wonderful book "The Jewish Self," by R. Jeremy Kagan (pgs. 98-102). See there for the full story; this is only a taste.

"Though understanding is build on inspiration, and genuine inspiration is divine, how can we distinguish true inspiration from fantasy?...How can something so personal govern what is seemingly objective?


"Torah is not a vision of reality; it is determinant of reality. Yet a person's vision of the world is a reflection of his self. It follows, then, that to have vision of what is real a person must have access to a self which is true and real.

"Torah is the pursuit of that self. It is not an academic investigation of ideas; it is a discipline of ultimate self. Only through diligent nurturing of the true "I," combined with a ruthless winnowing of historical circumstance, social opinion, and individual selfishness can a person gain access to his unadulterated self. Thus the sages state that the Oral Torah exists only in one who "kills" himself in the tents of Torah. This does not refer to removing one's individuality or his uniqueness and personality. The sages were not Torah computer or zombies. Rather, it refers to the removal of all external pressures which are foreign to the elemental self.

"The unrefined self is a mass of inclination each pulling in their own direction, with a confused center traveling among them...The unrefined self sees itself as several selves.

"The true self is unitary. Man was created in the tzelem, or image, of the Creator; the pure inner self is one, just as the Creator is One. Only through intense refinement can we arrive at that true, unitary self. This process of purification is identical with understand the world in a "personally objective" sense. For the purified self is in the image of the Creator, and the world also is creator and as such must reflect the Creator. Therefore the pure self mirrors the true world. Since our understanding is a projection of our self, purifying our self gives us true understanding of the world.

"The discipline of trhe Oral Torah is that process of purification; through it we have access to the unadulterated self. For just as man is created in the image of the Creator, so too the Torah is His creation and therefore reflects Him. The Zohar states that "The Holy One, The Torah, and Israel are all one." The Zohar means that the true inner being of an individual, the Torah, and the Creator's expression outside Himself are all one reality expressed in different dimensions. Therefore the Torah is necesarily the blueprint of the self.

"The relationship of the self to Torah is roughly comparable to that of mathematical axioms to the laws which are derived from them. The axioms on their own appear inexplicable and irrelevant. When developed they produce a full system of laws. These laws are merely expansions of the potential which lay in the axioms. So also the undeveloped self is impenetrable and nebulous. Torah is the structure of that self actualized and concretized.

"This metaphor also captures the relationship of the Torah back to the self. Our mathematical system, when viewed without the axioms which unify it into a logical whole, appears to be an arbitrary jumble of rules. So also the Torah without the self - which is its living source and center -appears empty and arbitrary.


The Oral Torah cannot exist without the self as a mere collection of disparate facts and legal decisions, for it expresses an integrated world. In the time of prophecy the Torah was the Creator's Torah and was unified through Him. When the Torah is no longer prophetic, when it is cut off from the Creator, the Torah finds its unity through the unitary knowing self of the individual. That true unitary self is the focal center of the Torah, and the Torah exists only though that unitary self with all its uniqueness and personality. Only in the uncovering of that unique self can the Torah, in its fullness, exist. Our sages express this in the following passage from the Talmud:

Said Rava: In the beginning the Torah is called by name of the Holy One and in the end it is called by the individual's name, for it says, "In Hashem's Torah desire and in his Torah strive day and night (Avodah Zarah 19a)."

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