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Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha 5782

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Connecting Disciplines in Torah Study

#103 part II

Date and Place: 21 Tevet 5668 (1908), Yafo


Recipient: Rav Yitzchak Aizik Halevi, the author of a monumental history of rabbinic scholarship, Dorot Harishonim. See Rav Kook’s letter to him (#99).


Body: [In the first installment, we saw Rav Kook’s warm words of thanks and excitement over receiving the Dorot Harishonim and his beginning of the topic of the connection between aggada (the moral and philosophical elements of Torah) and Halacha, including that they stem from prophecy and wisdom, respectively.]

There is a major difference of opinion as to how absolute the rule that Halacha is “not in the Heaven” (i.e., is not determined by miraculous signs but by human intellect based on textual sources and logic) is. Whereas the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah ch. 9) posits that there is no place for prophecy in the realm of Halacha, Tosafot (Yevamot 14) does not view it as a strong rule, as there are clear exceptions. Prophecy always had its impact on the way the Oral Law was applied. This is implied by the mishna in Avot (1:1) that the elders passed on the chain of Torah to the prophets. It is difficult to say that it was only by chance that the oral tradition was passed on to prophets and that their prophecy played no role in their expert status.

This is also the implication of the gemara (Zevachim 62a) that three prophets who came to Eretz Yisrael at the beginning of the Second Commonwealth provided information about the details of the operation of the Second Temple. There were certainly also scholars who moved to Eretz Yisrael at that time, but apparently certain matters required specifically the power of prophecy. Even if we accept that the final decision in a halachic matter is not determined by means of prophecy, it still has an impact on the process of the studies.

Certainly, in Eretz Yisrael, which is the place of prophecy, the flow of prophecy makes an impression on the study of Halacha. The matter is understood based on the internal look at the matter, without the need for great investigation. The Rabbis tell us that “the air of Eretz Yisrael makes people wiser” (Bava Batra 158b) and that study in Bavel could confuse what otherwise could be accomplished in Eretz Yisrael (see Bava Metzia 85a). The wisdom of prophecy, which is the foundation of the wisdom of aggada, the internal element of the root of the Torah, was much more active in Eretz Yisrael than in the Diaspora, which is not a suitable place for prophecy (see Moed Katan 25a).

Those people who are influenced by the roots of the wisdom of prophecy consider brevity a desired value. For them, the analysis of the halachot and the manner in which one matter is arrived at through another is done with a very broad survey of the topic. It is enough for them to have a small hint, and they already arrive at a ruling. That is the way the Jerusalem Talmud was studied, as those who merited to benefit from its divine light were able to suffice with short derivations before arriving at the practical halacha. Those who took part in the Babylonian Talmud, who were not likewise privy to the roots of prophecy, required much more long-winded discussion before arriving at a conclusion.


We continue next time.


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