<I>Shoftim: Emunat Chachamim</I>

Some people think that faith must be blind and preclude understanding. This is a very shallow interpretation. It allows skeptics to say, "If faith is not a function of the intellect but rather some vague emotion that I personally do not feel, then there is no reason for me to believe." On the contrary, faith is the greatest exercise of intellect and the greatest achievement of philosophy that ther

Tags:
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
"According to the Torah which they [the sages] teach you and according to the law which they expound to you, shall you act; you shall not turn from that which they tell you - neither right nor left." (Deuteronomy 17:11)

"Even if they tell you that right is left and that left is right! And certainly if they say that right is right and left is left." (Rashi, quoting Sanhedrin 89)

This is what is meant by "emunat chachamim" - faith in the sages. Some people think that faith must be blind and preclude understanding. This is a very shallow interpretation. It allows skeptics to say, "If faith is not a function of the intellect but rather some vague emotion that I personally do not feel, then there is no reason for me to believe." On the contrary, faith is the greatest exercise of intellect and the greatest achievement of philosophy that there is.

Faith in sages means trust, communication and a common point of reference. The halacha speaks of the honor and reverence due to talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), but faith in chachamim is on a higher plane; it is a deep, pervasive, vital feeling of connection. Faith in chachamim is an extension of faith in G-d - an extension of our faith in the One Who gave us the Torah - to faith in those who continue to disseminate Torah.

"And they believed in G-d and in His servant Moshe." (Exodus 14:31) Faith in chachamim means faith in the Oral Law, which has been handed down from one generation of chachamim to the next, from the very beginning until this day.

[Rabbi Aviner develops and deepens this theme in a letter to a student published in vol. 113 of Iturei Cohanim -Tammuz 5754, as follows.]

Faith in chachamim is faith in the Oral Law. The Oral Law is divine and eternal and a direct extension of the Written Law. However, it reaches us indirectly, on a more human plane, through talmidei chachamim. It makes no difference if they have gained their Torah knowledge through intellectual analysis refined by years of Torah study until their thought processes parallel those of the Torah, or if they have achieved a "divine inspiration". It is not something magical or a sudden prophesy, but an enlightened understanding gained through years of Torah study, as it says in Baba Bathra 12, "Prophesy was given to the chachamim."

There are differences of opinion among talmidei chachamim, but all opinions are "G-d's living Torah." These opinions are likened to sparks flying from an anvil, breaking into 70 different rays, each one representing another facet of the "70 faces of Torah." All of these combined constitute one great, all-inclusive truth. This should be our approach to Torah - to elevate and include all the "facets" of Torah.

However, there are also approaches that are outside the bounds of the Torah. It requires hard work to identify, refine and purge them. There are also approaches outside the bounds of Torah, but which have sparks of holiness, requiring more delicate work to refine.

Therefore, no one should make light of his own abilities, treating his own thoughts, feelings, desires and tendencies as worthless. They are a reflection of the image of G-d in which he was created. Faith in one's rabbi does not imply subordination or relinquishing the right to think for oneself. It should rather uplift one's inborn tendencies by refining them, certainly not by forcing them into a mold which is foreign to himself. This process of refinement is painful at first, for one must detach himself from parts of his life which are in reality foreign to him, but to which he has become accustomed, and which become difficult and painful to do without.

Faith in chachamim means trusting them. Your connection to your rabbi depends on your trust and may be a long, drawn-out process. There may be a conflict between the development of your ability to think critically and independently of your rabbis and teachers, and the deep love and respect you feel for them. These two flames slowly unite into one bright torch.

"Intellectual analysis and a sense of faith and admiration for men of G-d, the bearers of the great traditions wherein the treasures of the Divine are hidden - [these two approaches] differ psychologically [and subjectively] very greatly," but "these two forces really complement each other." (Rabbi A. Kook, Orot Hakodesh I, p.47-8)

Faith in chachamim should not make one into something he is not; quite the opposite - his faith should help him refine and develop his own unique self tenfold. Sometimes, when one begins a rabbi-student relationship, one relinquishes one's own personality as if one were an infant, but this is merely a transitional period until one undergoes a process of self-refinement. One then becomes one's own man, able to think critically and freely for oneself.

[Translated by Bracha Slae.]


top