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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan| 5770

Ein Ayah: The Dangers of Unbridled Intellect

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:35)

Gemara: “For this child I prayed” (Shmuel I, 1:27) – Rav Elazar said: Shmuel rendered a halachic decision in the presence of his teacher. [The gemara describes the give and take between Eili and Shmuel on whether a kohen must slaughter a sacrificial animal. Eili conceded the halachic point but said that] one who renders a halachic decision in the presence of his teacher is deserving of death. [Chana pleaded that Shmuel’s life be spared, saying, “For this child I prayed”].  


Ein Ayah: The prohibition of rendering a halachic decision in the presence of one’s teacher is based on the fact that there are two roads to shleimut (completeness): shleimut of the intellect and shleimut of ethics. The latter comes from a feeling of straightness. If one can always keep his intellect connected to ethics, he will succeed. However, if the intellect goes beyond the boundaries of the ethical, damage will usually follow. It is true that halacha is a matter of truth and intellectual shleimut. Nevertheless, fear of one’s teacher, which stems from a complete level of morality, should restrain one from rendering a ruling in his presence.

Shleimut in the realm of ethics is related to mefursamot, issues of good versus bad, as opposed to truth versus falsehood. In this way, the need for the intellect to be subservient to ethics stems from the fact that after the original sin, the world became bound into a struggle between good and bad, which ethics deals with. In terms of a person’s full potential, his pure intellect, which stems from the light of Hashem, should have been the main thing.

Due to the above, when one prefers his intellect and renders rulings in the presence of his teacher, he deserves death, because that phenomenon is very dangerous. Eili was especially concerned about Shmuel, whose great intellectual potential, if not kept in check, could cause much damage. In truth, though, this danger applies only to normal people, who have dangerous evil inclinations. In contrast, Shmuel was on a higher level, similar to that of Adam before the sin, and he did not need to hold back his intellect because of the morals at issue. On his level, his intellect could lead him on the correct path of actions.

That is what his mother, Chana, was saying in Shmuel’s defense: “For this child I prayed.” Since he had been born as a result of a special prayer and miracle, he was above natural tendencies, which focus on good versus evil, and he would be able to function based on the realization of truth.  


Paradoxical Honor of Heaven

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:39)


Gemara: Chana protested to Hashem, as the pasuk says: “She prayed on Hashem” (Shmuel I, 1: 10).


Ein Ayah: While k’vod shamayim (honoring Hashem) is the foundation of all shleimut (completeness), it is not that Hashem needs honor from His creations. Rather, by recognizing Divine honor, man comes to shleimut, both in thought and in action.

Sometimes great people are so overcome by their desire for shleimut and know that the point of k’vod shamayim is to bring one to shleimut, so that they find themselves unable to hold in their stormy spirit. They may view Divine Providence as holding them back from shleimut, while they know intellectually that everything that emanates from Hashem is just. However, within their hearts that feel great disappointment, the striving for shleimut cannot be put to rest until they give expression to their bad feelings about their inability to reach their spiritual goals. They may legitimately allow themselves to express their frustration about Hashem even though it is against what they logically know to be true. This engenders a strengthening of a positive spirit that, paradoxically, brings on true k’vod shamayim, as they exhibit the proper intensity of desire for shleimut. This is how Chana allowed herself to pray “on” Hashem.

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Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l,

Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion


Hemdat Yamim of this week is dedicated
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