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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why Learn Gemara - Part VII - Unity, Multiplicity, Unity

It seems that the major objection people have to learning Gemara is that it is simply too confusing. Remarkably, our Sages were aware that the Talmud Bavli in particular is quite confusing – calling it “darkness” – and suggested that one’s love of Hashem is measured by one’s willingness to go through this darkness (Tanchuma, Noach #3). What benefit is there to seeing the “great light” through such bitter darkness?

R. Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Channukah #3) presents us with a further quandary: “Sometimes the nullification of Torah is its very subsistence (Menachot 99b), as it says: “’[the tablets] which you broke’ – Congratulations that you broke them!” The breaking of the tablets was an act of upholding the Torah through nullifying it. Yet, our Sages have said: “If it were not for the breaking of the tablets the Torah would have never been forgotten from Israel (Eruvin 54a).”Thus, we see that through the breaking of the tablets there was an outcome of forgetting the Torah.” We learn from here a wondrous insight: It is possible for the Torah to grow through forgetting the Torah to the extent that one can receive a “congratulations [from Hashem]” because of this forgetting! Go out and see what the Sages said: “Three hundred halakhot were forgotten during the mourning over Moshe and Otniel ben Kenaz returned them through intellectual analysis [pilpul]” –and these words of Torah of intellectual analysis which returned the halakhot are Torah itself which grew only through forgetting the Torah! Furthermore, the entire enterprise of disagreement in halakha is only an outcome of the Torah being forgotten. Nevertheless, the Sages said that “these make pure and these make impure, these disqualify and these permit, these allow and these obligate…These and these are the words of the Living G-d.” Thus, all of the differences of opinion and changing of stances which build the Torah and glorify it are an outcome of forgetting the Torah.

According to R. Hutner we see the light through the darkness; the Torah is built through forgetting! In order to understand this he points us in the direction of that beautiful and mysterious teaching of Sages: “Elu v’Elu Divrei Elokim Chayyim – These and These are the Words of the Living G-d.”

R. Meir ibn Gabaai (Avodat ha’Kodesh,Takhlit ch. 23), in explaining the principle of "Elu v'Elu writes: "At Sinai, all faces of the halakha emanated from God. On each level there was both a positive and a negative face which was presented. At that time, each prophet affixed on the view which was consistent with his spiritual level."

This is hinting to a geometric model of Torah. In our three-dimensional world we understand that one object can have many faces – a cube has six faces, the dodecahedron has twelve faces, and the icosahedron has twenty faces . But what kind of object has forty-nine faces (or forty-nine times two), or seventy faces, or six-hundred-thousand faces (Vilna Gaon, Shir ha'Shirim 5:10)! For this we must reach up to the fourth (or even higher) dimension where one object can have many, many faces. For example, a cube in the fifth dimension has eighty faces. Below is an example of five-dimensional cube.

R. Meir ibn Gabbai continues: "This is reiterated in the Midrash of R. Shimon b. Yochai. There it is stated that everything came from unity and will again return to unity. In the interim we are obligated to understand all of the different views of the Torah. Yet, because we do not have the knowledge of the 50th level which shows why and how two disparate views can be held simultaneously, we rule in accordance with one view, which becomes the halakha. The reason that we must learn all of the views is because our task is to create in the physical world the unity which exists on the 50th level and this can come about only when the totality of views is understood.”(Translated by R. Nachman Cohen, Mirrors in Eternity, pg. 442)

We can, therefore, understand why the Bavli is so confusing and why forgetting Torah has a positive aspect to it as well - it allows us to reveal the many, many faces of Torah that would have otherwise never been seen! In other words, the light of Torah has always existed in potential. Moshe saw in a vision how this light would be actualized (Megilah 19b; Tosfot Yom Tov, Hakdama l'Mishna; R. Shlomo Elyashiv, Ha'Deah, II, pg. 86a), yet it is the mission of the Jewish people to reveal this great light in its full grandeur. This process can be compared to how one might study a great piece of art. At first a person sees a masterpiece and is full of inspiration. Then, in hope of deepening one's understanding of the piece they study art history and theory for many years. During this time they lose that inspiration; however, the wise man has eyes in his head. In the end, he will return to that masterpiece and see it in a completely and utterly different way (heard in the name of R. Lichtenstein).

This approach lends new meaning to the ideal of "Torah Lishma." R. Kook, in Orot ha'Torah (2:1), writes: "The idea of "Torah lishma" means for the sake of Torah, that the existence of wisdom, the will of Hashem, should be [revealed] in actuality...All that a person learns in Torah brings from potential to actual the existence of wisdom from the aspect of his soul. Certainly, the light which is created through his connection to Torah will not be the same as the light created from another person's connection. Therefore, he literally builds the Torah while he learns..."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting - maybe this would explain why "the original meaning of the text" (p'shat) was largely lost (something the Rambam lamented). It allowed for a plethora of new interpretation. The relatively recent return to p'shat would be a symptom of ikvisa d'mishicha, a return to unity!