Post Archive for March 2019

Shabbos Parashas Vayikra

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 13, end
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 20:4 relates that a certain Roman philosopher sought to determine the length of the gestation period of a snake. He found snakes mating, put the females in a barrel, and fed them until they gave birth. When some Torah scholars came to visit Rome, the philosopher asked Rabban Gamliel how long the gestation period is, and Rabban Gamliel could not answer. Later that day Rabban Gamliel encountered R. Yehoshua and told him what happened, and R. Yehoshua told him that the answer was seven years. R. Yehoshua explained: “The dog is a nonkosher roaming animal and its gestation period is fifty days. A nonkosher farm animal’s gestation period is twelve months. Now, regarding the snake, it is written (Bereishis 3:14): ‘Accursed are you beyond all the farm animals and beyond all beasts of the field.’ Just as the farm animals are cursed seven times more than the beasts of the field, so, too, the snake is cursed seven times more than the farm animals.” Towards evening Rabban Gamliel returned to the philosopher and gave him the answer. The philosopher banged his head on the wall and exclaimed: “What took me seven years of toil to determine, this fellow conveys to me with the ease of passing a reed.”
Similarly, in Koheles 1:13, Shlomo HaMelech declares that he set his heart “to survey (לָתוּר) and probe with wisdom all that is done beneath the heavens,” and in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:7, the Midrash expounds:
What does it mean “to survey” (לָתוּר)? It means to be a scout for wisdom. As it is written (Bamidbar 13:2): “And they scouted (וְיָתֻרוּ) the land of Canaan.” Whoever was well-versed in Scripture, he [Shlomo] would go to him; whoever was well-versed in Mishnah, he would go to him. … And not only for Torah teachings was Shlomo a scout, but rather for everything that takes place under the sun, such as how mustard and lupines are prepared. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to him: “You went searching for Torah teachings? By your life, I will not deprive you of your reward. Behold, I am going to infuse you with Divine inspiration.”
Now we can ask, how did Shlomo permit himself to investigate such things as how to prepare mustard and lupines, and thereby interrupt his Torah study? A Jew is obligated to study Torah at all times. Thus, The Gemara in Menachos 99b relates:
Ben Damah the son of R. Ishmael’s sister once asked R. Yishmael, “May one such as I who has studied the whole of the Torah learn Greek wisdom?” R. Yishmael read him the following verse (Yehoshua 1:8): This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate upon it day and night.” Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night and then learn Greek wisdom.
The reason Shlomo permitted himself to investigate such things as how to prepare mustard and lupines is that he set his heart to determine these things from the words of the Torah. We can compare the matter to a merchant who can find out what his inventory is without examining the merchandise, simply by reading his records. The Torah is a record book that contains information on everything beneath the heavens.
In Avos 5:22 the Mishnah states: “Probe it [the Torah] again and again, for everything is in it. Set your gaze upon it; grow old and gray over it, and do not budge from it, for you have no better portion than this.” A person can live far from a settled area and not observe anything, and still, by attaching himself among Torah scholars, gain the knowledge and understanding to give advice on anything a person might ask. He will have intimate knowledge of what results from any action, at any place and at any time. Look in the Torah and see the curses listed for sinning, and take note of how everything the Torah spoke of has come to pass. Shlomo spoke well when he said (Mishlei 23:26): “My child, give your heart to me, and your eyes will desire my ways.”
Now, given what we have discussed, what need do we have for proofs of the truth of the Torah. Anyone who beholds its glorious wisdom will recognize its truth. The truth speaks for itself!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Pekudei

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 13, continued
We said that no wisdom can exist without having been transmitted by a Primal Intellect. It is the fortunate lot of the Jewish People to have received from Hashem an abundance of wisdom. We are a great and exalted people, to whom Hashem has granted an inborn capacity for understanding. The Jewish People has a natural proficiency in all areas of intellectual inquiry. We see for ourselves how our youths display wondrous wisdom. Because of our astuteness, we have a critical eye, and when we are presented with a claim, it is hard to convince us all to believe it. At the same time, when we encounter a self-evident truth, we accept it readily, for Hashem has implanted in our hearts a natural tendency to recognize truth.
Thus, the belief in Hashem and His servant Moshe is universal among all classes of our people: the young and the old, the common people and the elite, and so on. Even among young Jewish children, who cannot yet tell good from bad, we find many who are God-fearing and continually engaged in Torah and mitzvos; fear of Hashem can be seen on their faces as part of their nature.
Let us consider how our commentators explain Tehillim Chapter 19. The chapter begins by saying that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament tells of His handiwork.” After elaborating on this statement, the chapter goes on to speak of the Torah: “The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise.” The chapter begins by praising the sun, and then proceeds to praise the Torah. The sun and the Torah are our steadfast luminaries. Just as the sun was created to shine light on the earth for the benefit of our bodies, so, too, the precious Torah was given to us to shine light on our souls and open the eyes of our intellect. And just as our physical eyes are receptive to light, so, too, our intellect is geared to absorb wisdom. And the Torah is the fountain of wisdom, from which we draw counsel for dealing with all the various challenges of life. One who safeguards the Torah and observes its dictates will proceed through life securely, without stumbling. We find wise counsel in great measure in the homiletical teachings of the Sages, which provide guidance in dealing with all kinds of illnesses and difficulties.
Moreover, the Torah contains comprehensive information on nature of all creatures: how they are conceived and born, how they move from place to place, what agitates them and what calms them, and so on. Some of this information is presented in Scriptural passages devoted to these topics, while some is presented incidentally in metaphorical statements. One example of the second type is found in Tehillim 42:2: “As the deer longs for brooks of water, so my soul longs for you, my God.” Another example is found in Mishlei 17:12: “Better for a man to encounter a bear bereft of its offspring than a fool in his foolishness.” Likewise, the Torah contains information on all other creations, both those under the sun and those above it, without exception. Regarding every creation, the Torah provides information about its nature and behavior, its beginning, middle, and end, its genesis and its purpose, what benefits it and what damages it, its source, its appointed time, and where it is from and where it is going.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayakhel

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 13, beginning
We now explain the blessing that follows the morning Shema:
True and certain, established and enduring, right and steadfast, beloved and cherished, delightful and pleasant, awesome and mighty, correct and accepted, good and beautiful is this word unto us forever and ever.
The term true denotes a fact whose truth is self-evident, without need of proof. An example is given by the Gemara in Sotah 9b:
It is written (Shoftim 16:18): “And Delilah saw that he [Shimshon] had told her all that was in his heart.” How did she know? Said R. Chanin in the name of Rav: “From here we see that words of truth are recognizable [meaning, according to Rashi, that they sit well with the listener].”
Now, Shimshon was an established liar in his dealings with Delilah, having lied to her three times. Thus, in view of the one making the statement, it was more likely to be false than true. Nonetheless, the statement itself was recognizable as true.
We see from this, and we must know and firmly believe, that a person has a natural sense, which Hashem implanted in him, whereby he can recognize the truth without any proof. We can draw an analogy with seeing. One way to determine the nature of an object is through an identifying mark. Another way is through the object having previously made an impression on the eye, even it has no identifying mark. Thus, in a discussion of returning lost objects in Bava Metzia 24a, our Sages taught, in their pure wisdom, that recognition by sight based on a prior impression on the eye is better than an identifying mark. The same holds with the sense of hearing: In some cases, a person believes what he hears because of compelling evidence or a compelling logical proof, while in other cases he believes something without any proof, just because his heart tells him it is true.
Now, the law stated in Bava Metzia that a lost object can be returned solely on the basis of a prior impression on the eye applies only to a Torah scholar, who is able to see things clearly. Similarly, the fact that a person believes something does not mean it is true unless the person has clear mental perception. A person’s belief cannot be trusted if the person is a fool who believes anything, today believing one thing and tomorrow its opposite. It is different with a person who has a skeptical nature, and does not tend to believe what he hears. With such a person, if he believes some proposition, this is reliable testimony that the proposition is self-evidently true.
Yirmiyah 10:10 states: “Hashem, God, is true.” In connection with this statement, the Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:4 states that Hashem alone is absolutely true – nothing else is true in the way He is true. In order to us to be able to conceive of any entity that may or may not exist, we must first have firm knowledge of the One who necessarily must exist. There must not remain in our minds any doubt of Hashem’s existence and His unity – that there is no power aside from Him.
This is the meaning of the word true at the beginning of the blessing that follows the morning Shema. It is self-evident that no entity can exist in this world without having had a Creator, and no wisdom can exist without having been transmitted, out of graciousness, by a Primal Intellect.