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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5777

Ein Ayah: The Fruitfulness of Investigation When Necessary

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 4:7)

Gemara: [According to one opinion in the gemara, the number of thirty-nine categories of forbidden work on Shabbat corresponds to the thirty-nine times the root appears in the Torah in the forms of “melacha,” “melachto,” and “melechet.”] Rav Yosef asked: Is [the pasuk regarding Yosef], “He came home to do his work (melachto)” (Bereishit 39:11) part of the count? Abaye responded: Let us bring a sefer Torah and count. Didn’t Rabba bar bar Chana say in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: They did not move from there until they brought a sefer Torah and counted them.


Ein Ayah: There are three ways to solve a doubt: kabbala (tradition), mechkar (investigation or analysis), and nisayon (experience or experimentation). In a case in which nisayon cannot clarify the matter, mechkar can come to help and spread beams of light in the matter, either close or far, as appropriate for the specific topic. In a case in which mechkar also cannot bring us to our desired destination, a reliable tradition will appear for those who deserve the answer and will give them the happiness of uncovering that which is hidden.  

However, Heaven forbid for us to use hidden powers when we have the ability to uncover the information with “revealed” means. Therefore, we will not try to investigate the matter through philosophical investigation when there is a way of clarifying it through a simple factual check. We learn as well that one should not desist from investigating that which we are capable of investigating. Very often when Hashem gives us the ability to arrive at an attainment by one means, he does not enable reaching that goal with another means.

The questions that we have about matters of Torah are very important, both in regard to the knowledge that we seek and in regard to the fact that it makes us toil hard to answer the questions. Therefore, we should be careful not to think that since the search for answers itself has value, there is no reason to look for easy answers such as with nisayon but we should anyway concentrate on the hard work of logical analysis. This is one side of the argument. Others might say that since the idea of belief in the words of the sages is important, we should prefer that the answer come through tradition.

Neither of these approaches is correct. Actually, only when we do not have access to truth through nisayon is it fruitful to work hard to look for an answer “from far away.” Then we will know that the toil is important and that there must be a divine secret for why this toil was saved for a certain person at a certain time in history. However, when there is a more direct way, it is not a case where Hashem gave inspiration from the process of using logic to try to solve the problem, as the person is just being too lazy to check the matter directly. Then, if someone will try to use mechkar to decide the matter, he will not succeed, and any intellectual “branches” of the process will not be “planted on the waters of the true Torah.” Since the mind is always working, it is not good to delay the matter, but one should clarify it as appropriate.

In our case, nisayon dictates that a sefer Torah should be brought in order to count and one should not say that there is no time now for such a tedious job but that in the meantime one should decide based on mechkar. That is why it says that they did not move from there before they checked. This shows the beloved status that brought about the technical clarification, so that no one should over-intellectualize on matters that are not meant for such a decision. “The sayings of Hashem are pure sayings …” (Tehillim, 12:7).     

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