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Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Learn Gemara - PartV

The Torah as God's Mind

Through learning one may get a glimpse the wisdom of Hashem as manifested in the Torah. The intellect beholds the Infinite Perfection of Hashem, "how the higher light fits within the halakha”[i] and the heart is filled with tremendous pleasure and love of Hashem.”[ii]

Coming to this experiential recognition of love of Hashem is the climax of spiritual growth. The Shiurei Da’at[iv] explains that great Sages, like the Vilna Gaon and R. Akiva Eiger, could sustain their bodies from the pleasure that they received from the Torah. This is obviously a very high level, but even the average student can either gain enjoyment through learning and thus fulfills his need for pleasure in a holy way.”[v]

The difficulty in the Rambam is that since much of the Torah is based on interpretation it does not necessarily reflect the wisdom of Hashem. Indeed, the accepted interpretation is post-facto Hashem's will, but how can we say that it actually is His Mind and Wisdom?

R. Jeremy Kagan formulates the questions as such: "As long as there was prophecy, the Creator revealed in a direct way what the essence of reality was - there was a divine check on the understanding of Torah, it was completely the Creator's Torah. But what happens when prophecy stops? We still have a record of Moses' prophecy, the Written Torah; it contains all potential truth. But its reading becomes entirely dependent upon

How can an individual's interpretation of the Torah still be Torah?...[H]ow [can] such a thing can be called Torah, the underlying essence of reality and determinant of the Creator's relationship to the world?”[vi]

There are two approaches to this question. The first approach addresses the nature of human cognition:

“Just as prophecy is a Divine flow, so wisdom. Man cannot apprehend anything without the aid of the Divine influx, as it says, “For the Lord grants wisdom (Proverbs 2:6)” This is what the Rabbis meant when they said “Though prophecy was taken from the prophets, it was not taken from the Sages” (Bava Batra 12a).”[vii]

This is true of all thought which involves eternal truths, [viii]but is especially true of Torah.[ix]

R. Soloveitchik,[x] in discussing the Rambam,[xi] writes: "Man must serve God at the intellectual level. Judaism believes that human thinking is only a reflex of the infinite mind and that human knowledge and cognition are basically Divine possessions. Man is only allowed to share these treasures with their real Master - God. Thought is the link connecting finite and infinite, creature and Creator...Thinking in terms of eternal truths, whether theoretical or ethical, is an act of love, of craving for God...In the intellectual gesture, there is a human turning to God, a silent communication, a speechless dialogue with the Creator, Artist and Lover. Man and God are united through the bond of wisdom (see Mishna Torah, Hilkhot Teshuva 10:6).

"In an excerpt from Maimonides Guide (MN III:51) the exclusively intellectual feature in the communication between God and man is stressed with almost unrestrained zeal. The true worship of God is possible only when correct idea of Him have previously been conceived. It is when one has arrived by way of intellectual research at a knowledge of God and His works that one may try to approach Him and strengthen even further the intellect which is the link to Him.

"At this intellectual level, Judaism considered the study of Torah as the most sublime kind of worship, a way of meeting God, of breaking through the barrier separating the Absolute from contingent and relative. Human intellectual engagement in the exploration of God's word, thought and law is a great religious experience, an activity bordering on the miraculous, a paradoxical bridge spanning the chasm that separates the world of vanity from infinity. The leaders of both Hasidut and Lithuanian halakhic rationalism saw in the preoccupation of the intellect with the Torah a sort of identification with Divine thought, the realization of man's longing for companionship with God, reaching the dimensions of the supra-natural unio mystica."
This approach would probably interpret the principle of “Eilu v'eilu divrie Elokim Chayim” according to the multiple-truth theory. Halakhic truth is either dependent on the case[xii] or the times[xiii] or is simply too rich and complex to be grasped by one mind.[xiv]

[i] Orot ha’Torah, 2:3
[ii] Rambam, Sefer ha’Mitzvos, Mitzva # 3
[iii] R. Chait,
[iv] Shiure Da’at, Vol II, "Peles Ma'agal Raglecha."
[v] Hakdama l’Eglei Tal
[vi] R. Jeremy Kagan, The Jewish Self, pg. 98
[vii] Shlomo Almoli, Pitron ha’Chalomot, 4:2. Also see Chiddushei Ramban on Bava Batra 12a. Translation by Bezalel Naor, Lights of Prophecy, pg. 32.
[viii] R. Kook, Orot, Zironim, Tzimaon l’El Chayah.
[ix] Avodah zarah 19a; Ramchal, Tikkunim 24; Tanya, Chapter 5; Nefesh ha’Chayim 4:6; R. Tzadok ha'Kohen, Dover Zedek, 71d-72c.
[x] Worship of the Heart, pgs 4-5
[xi] Sefer Ikkarim, 1:16; Chovot ha'Levavot, Sha'ar Avodat Elokim, Chapter 5.
[xii] Rashi, Ketubot 57a (See R. Zvi Lampel, Dynamics of Dispute for different interpretations) – when two sides argue over the halakha there will be cases when one is correct and other cases when the other one is correct ( and, presumably, we decide the halakha based on which one will be correct most of the time). For this phenomenon in Torah, see Ohr ha’Chaim on Bamidbar 14:29 and Devarim 1:14; Ramban on Breisheit 15:13 (with R. Cooperman’s explanation) and Vayikra 18:4; Netziv on Breisheit 25:23.
[xiii] Dor Revi”i based on Midrash Shmuel on Avot 1:1.
[xiv] Maharal, Be’er ha’Golah, pgs.19-20; Yam Shel Shlomo, Hakdama l’Bava Kamma; Migdal Oz , Tefillin 3; Amudei Shesh, chapter 20; Shi’urei Da’at, hakdama, and others.

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