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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei 5774

Ein Ayah: Absorb and Then Critique

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:343)

Gemara:Hassket (literally, listen) and hear, Israel” (Devarim 27:9). [Read it as:] Hass (be silent) and afterward katet (break it down with critical analysis), as Rava said: A person should always study Torah first and then contemplate.


Ein Ayah: Investigation into a variety of matters needs to be done not just by the conclusions one comes to by analyzing the specific subjects. Rather they should be arrived at after a broad and all-encompassing knowledge of all the matters that relate to it even if they do not relate to it closely. Therefore, it is not realistic to arrive at good results through an innovative investigation unless one first developed broad knowledge of the entire subject and everything that relates to it.

This proviso is especially important when one opposes or critiques ideas. In order for this critical analysis to be useable to increase and adorn the Torah, to create more wisdom, and to glorify it, it must come from a full, all-encompassing, and orderly analysis of the matter, as is fitting of an expert. Therefore, a person has to be used to the arduous task of listening a lot, so that he can increase knowledge, while holding back from inserting his own thoughts and philosophies during the absorption process. Even if what he absorbs is contrary to his own ideas in certain details, he should not enter into intellectual battle too quickly. Rather, hass, be silent, listen, and get to the bottom of the subject by investigating all parts of it. Then you will have possession of the full picture, and you will be a warrior ready for the battle of Torah.

The next stage is katet – break that which it appears to you to need to be broken and dismantled. However, do not be hasty to dismantle and criticize before you are a great expert in the matter at hand. If you are hasty, there will be great logical and ethical problems. This is because in general when one studies, the broad absorption of information needs to come before creative investigation. That is what the gemara means by: “A person should always study Torah first and then contemplate.” We also see that breaking and dismantling, using the weapons of intellectual opposition and criticism, must come only after deep and clear knowledge, which is acquired with great toil and work. If you fulfill the condition, you will certainly see blessing even when you break some of that which you have seen. This is the way that Torah is studied: one person builds and another destroys, as long as the latter is capable and appropriately prepared to do so.

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