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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Use your intelligence wisely

Daf Yomi Sotah 29

Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, was one of the most erudite Talmudic scholars to walk the face of the Earth.  His learning never ceased for a moment.  At night, he would place his feet in buckets of ice water to stay awake.  He would then hold the candle in his hand, so that the wax would drip onto his skin and keep him alert.  Such was his superhuman dedication to Torah study.

As a result, the works of the Vilna Gaon parallel the level of scholarship of the medieval and gaonic rabbis, a feat otherwise unheard of in the modern historical era.   Also known by his initials, the GR”A, this great mind posed and responded to Talmudic questions that had rabbis puzzled for centuries.

Rav Gidel quoted Rav: Concerning the difference between something that has the intelligence to be questioned versus something that does not have the intelligence to be questioned, we learn the law from the verse, “And the [sacrificial] meat that shall touch anything impure must not be eaten.”  The implication is that if it definitely came into contact with impurity, then it must not be eaten; but if it is possibly impure or possibly pure, it may be eaten.
The next part of the verse, however, suggests the opposite, stating, “Regarding the meat, any pure person may eat the meat.”  The implication is that if a person is definitely pure, then he may eat the meat; but if he is possibly impure or possibly pure, he may not eat.
The resolution is as follows: The latter case deals with a subject that has the intelligence to be questioned (a person), whereas the former case deals with a subject that does not have the intelligence to be questioned (a piece of meat).
Rashi explains: We cannot ask a lifeless piece of meat whether or not it came into contact with impurity and so we give it the benefit of the doubt.   By contrast, an intelligent human being may be questioned as to exactly what occurred and so, in a situation of uncertainty, we err on the side of caution.

A live human being is held to a higher standard of accountability than an inanimate piece of meat.  Why?  Because he has intelligence and may be questioned.

Everybody wants to be smart.  But how many people are willing to take on the responsibilities that accompany intelligence?   When the Almighty bestows intelligence upon an individual, it is in order to be able to answer questions that people have.

Humankind has questions.  If you are bright, you were given your gifts of intelligence to answer people’s theological questions.  If you avoid the questioners, you are shirking your mission on Earth! 

Why do people avoid answering questions?  Because they’re not willing to invest the necessary time and effort to acquire the answers.  Powerful, airtight answers require deep, focused, lengthy Torah study.  If you’re not willing to sit down and learn, you won’t have the answers and you will be caught off-guard as you try to respond to difficult theological queries.

The problem is that in the information age, people aren’t willing to commit the time and focus needed to learn Torah properly.  It’s easier to get your answers from Rabbi Google or Rabbi Wikipedia or even Rabbi Aish.com or Rabbi Chabad.org.  That’s not to say that the latter two websites aren’t incredibly rich sources of Torah wisdom – they are, G-d bless the tzadikim (righteous people) that have poured their hearts and souls into these initiatives! 

But they are no substitute for the real deal: true, unbridled Torah learning.  The kind that you break your back over.  The Vilna Gaon kind.  The GR”A was a clever man; but he didn’t stop there.  He could not go to bed at night until he had the answers to our people’s questions.  He recognized that the reason he was blessed with incredible intellect was in order to respond.

Every gift from above is a test.  Will you utilize it simply in the pursuit of your worldly pleasures?  Or will you employ it for the sake of Heaven?  When you have the intellect to be questioned you become more responsible.  You cannot simply walk away and ignore the great questions of Judaism.  You wouldn’t be dismissive of issues that you excel in professionally; why wouldn’t you grant the same attention to questions that drive your spirit and the souls of those around you?

What are we talking about?  Very few have the dedication to become the Vilna Gaon.  Sadly, in today’s day and age, it doesn’t take that much to become an expert in Judaism and Israel, compared to most of the population.  If you immerse yourself in Jewish learning and Israel advocacy training, diligently seeking the answers to your questions, you will automatically become an incredible resource to those around you.  You will have the answers to dichotomies between Torah and science, to difficult passages in the Torah, and to the critics of the Jewish state.


Don’t ever say that the job of answering questions is for someone else to do.  Unless of course, you don’t think particularly highly of your level of intelligence.  The Almighty gave you brains; may you dedicate the time and effort required to utilize those brains to answer the pressing questions of today!