Monday, September 29, 2008

Agada & Kabbala - learning things beyond comprehension

Tzlach (Introduction): There is a critically important benefit of learning agada of the Talmud and medrashim - the profound thoughts of our Sages - which they presented in a concealed and obscure manner. They obviously were fully aware that such profound secrets would not be totally comprehended even by a very wise man. Nevertheless despite all the concealment there is in fact a major benefit when we should merit that it should be fulfilled in us. "He kissed me with the kisses of His mouth". And that the exalted spirit manifests itself in us and we hear the words of the Living G-d. Then we will comprehend and know the great good which we obtain by the means of our study of the words of agada even though we don’t properly understand them.

Let me explain how one can benefit from studying material he doesn't understand. A child when he starts school - the first thing the teacher does before beginning formal learning - is to teach him the forms of the letters. He teaches him what letter is an aleph and which is a beis - as well as all the rest of the letters. Once the child has mastered the letters he teaches him the different vowel sounds. When the child has mastered the letters and the vowels he teaches him the combination of the letters and the vowels. All this requires tremendous effort to master something which seems to have no inherent value. If in fact the child had a mature intellect he would find this study boring and repulsive. He would view himself as slave occupied in a totally meaningless task. He would object and say that he sees no significance in knowing whether the letter is read as oh or ah. He would protest simply because he is not able to comprehend the great accomplishment of knowing how to read. Therefore ironically we find that a child - because of his inferior understanding - is actually superior to this task to a mature mind. He is able because the weakness of his understanding to study the letters with great enthusiasm and fully master them This is obviously a critically important accomplishment.

In fact there is a true story in which there were highly educated men traveling on a ship and with them was a pregnant woman. When the ship was well out to sea a great storm arose that transported the ship to a certain place which was uninhabited and had never been seen by man before. In that isolated place the ship broke up and the men and the woman were saved by going on the dry land. The remained there many days. After the passage of time the woman gave birth to a boy. He grew up there. The men did not have any books with them. Nor did they have any writing material. When the boy grew up he was taught various knowledge by the men. The boy did not know anything about reading and writing at all - since he never saw it. Then one day one of the men came to him and said to him - I am going to teach you something. He began by teaching him the letters of the alphabet and how to pronounce them. He taught the boy in the same way the small children who first start school are taught the letters. However this boy who was born in the ship who already had grown up. He objected and demanded to know what the significance of this study was. He began to angrily argue with the teacher and denounced the study as a complete waste of time. He demanded to know what possible benefit came from studying the letters since it was pure mechanical memorization without any wisdom or intelligence. However the teacher told him that when they returned to civilization the boy would be able to read books as a result of mastering the alphabet and then he would appreciate the great good that is the result of this knowledge. Consequently he forced the boy to learn despite his objections - until the boy had mastered the alphabet. Eventually G-d had mercy on these people and they saw a ship which rescued them. When the boy returned to civilization he found there books of profound wisdom which he was able to study because of his mastery of the alphabet. He learned new things which he had never conceived of. Only then he realized and appreciated having learned the alphabet. He expressed his deep appreciation and gratitude to the teacher who had forced him to learn the alphabet.

This is the moshol. This itself is the nimshol regarding Agada which have been taught to us by our Sages. All of them are in fact allegory which conceal within them great light. We unfortunately lack the ability to see this light and understand it. However without the superficial awareness we have from the agada it would be impossible for us to see this light and understand it in the future. In other words the agada is the material for the form that will be comprehended in the future. Nevertheless we have to realize that the agada which introduces us to this wisdom is in fact very far from being the wisdom itself. It is comparable to the relationship of the alphabet that the child learns to the wisdom contained in the holy books. In the future when the material is separated from its form then we will grasp and understand how wonderful it is that we learned the relatively superficial lesson of the agada. Without the preliminary superficial understanding obtained from the agada it would be impossible to understand - when we are in Heaven - the words of the Living G-d which are concealed in the agada. It will be at that time that we will understand and give thanks to our Sages who taught us the agada. We will then be able to recognize the great good that has done for us through the study of agada that are included in the Talmud and medrashim. Similar to this I heard in my youth from the great tzadik Rabbi Noach Levi of Brody concerning the 10 Sefiros and other issues of kabbala - all of them are merely introductions that are comparable to learning the alphabet with a child. By means of our exposure to them in this world we will merit in the Future World when the materialistic aspects have been removed from us - we will be capable of grasping and understanding their wisdom and give praise and appreciation to our G-d. It is then we will truly comprehend the profound secrets of the Torah. We will then know the truth. The ways of G-d are upright and the righteous go in them. Amen.

6 comments :

  1. "Similar to this I heard in my youth from the great tzadik Rabbi Noach Levi of Brody concerning the 10 Sefiros and other issues of kabbala - all of them are merely introductions that are comparable to learning the alphabet with a child. By means of our exposure to them in this world we will merit in the Future World when the materialistic aspects have been removed from us - we will be capable of grasping and understanding their wisdom and give praise and appreciation to our G-d. It is then we will truly comprehend the profound secrets of the Torah. We will then know the truth. The ways of G-d are upright and the righteous go in them. Amen."

    The Rebbeim of Chabad taught the same principle:

    "Deja Vu
    A chassid once asked the Tzemach Tzedek: "What is the point of exerting ourselves in the study of Chassidus, which deals with abstractions that no mortal mind can fully grasp? After all, when Mashiach comes even those who did not study Chassidus will know G-d, as it is written,[241] 'For they will all know Me.' "

    The Tzemach Tzedek replied: "A person listening to a conversation conducted on the other side of a wall does not grasp it all; he only grasps its general drift. But later, when the conversation is repeated to him in all its detail, he understands everything that he had heard previously. Every moment or two he thinks, 'Aha! Now I understand all those connections and details!'

    "Here, too," explained the Tzemach Tzedek, "it is true that someone who studies Chassidus grasps only part of the subject. But when Mashiach will teach it in time to come, that man will be able to look back and say, 'Aha...!'

    "And not only that, but someone hearing those teachings for the second time will understand them much more deeply than someone who will then hear them for the first time. As the above-quoted verse says, 'For they will all know Me, from their smallest to their greatest' -- and it is obvious that the understanding of a young child cannot be compared to that of an adult."

    Transmitted by oral tradition"

    http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/from-
    exile-to-redemption-1/10.htm

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  2. There is a consensus of many mekubalim that a proliferation of pnimiut hatorah is needed today particularly in our generation.

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  3. With all due respect to the great Tzadik R' Brody, his explanation is quite simplistic. To say that we are learning basics only for use in the world to come, in many ways is contrary to the initial pledge of the Jewish people, Na'aseh and Nishma. Even in Kabbalah this has been the shita taught to me by luminaries such as R' Kaduri Z"L, R' Shalom Shmueli Shlita and R' Beniyahu Shlita.

    There is a level of doing and action, starting in the Kavanot of Tefila. Then extending into the various Tikunim, that coupled with Teshuva and observance of the mitzvot allow us to become proper vessels for the supernal light.

    Finally there is the attainment of Ruah HaKodesh, which the sages still tell us is available in every generation, and even in these last generations we have seen such luminaries as R' Sharabi, the Baba Sali and R' Kaduri who attained these lofty heights, and they are the ones who are revealed to the masses. Concealed within the Kabbalistic academies there are many who have also achieved such heights buy hide from public view. People whom I have seen great Gedolim such as R' Yosef or R' Eliashiv come to seek counsel and blessing from.

    Obviously these luminaries have a level of understanding of Kabbalistic concepts and workings that baffle the mind. In my studies I ran into a difficulty in the Kavanot of Sephirat HaOmer, excluding the details, I explained my difficulty to one of these Rabbanim and asked for a Teretz(when performing the kavanot these small details can make a world of difference). When I agreed to answer me I broke out my MP3 recorder and notebook. He said, "Its quite simple..." 45min later and with ample notes, I went back to review what he said, to gain the understanding for myself. It took me two weeks to comprehend what he told me, and in all honesty I don't think I managed to internalize it and really understand it, until well after Shavuot.

    So there is definitely a level of understanding that is possible even today. In Shaare Kedusha, Helek 2, Shaar2 or 3(sorry I don't remember the exact reference), R' Haim Vital first quotes sources stating that the study of all of Pardes is a Torah injunction. Then he states that on the fateful day of judgment when the heavenly court asked us what did you learn, they will not simply state "what did you learn," rather they will ask, "what did you learn from P'shat, from Remez, from Drash, and most importantly from Sod?" He then states that it will not be the material that we can recount that will be to our benefit and save us from the wrath of angels and reincarnation, but rather it will be what we understood.

    Thus if understanding more than elementary concepts is only possible in the days of Mashiah, R' Vital has made it impossible for us to live. There is no hope for us. Rather we must say that in truth, understanding can be achieve, even on rather exulted levels, but as with all Torah, full understanding will only be achieved in the days of Mashiah.

    Much as our Rabbis of blessed memory told us concerning Moshe Rabbeinu. In Pirkei Avot, it states Moshe Kibel Torah M'Sinai. The commentators ask why Kibel? The overall answer was he was given all that he was capable of receiving and understanding, but he was not given all the Torah. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, on such a high and exalted level was not capable of understanding it all, even for him that that will have to wait for the days of Mashiah. Is that to say that Moshe Rabbeinu did not understand Torah ChV"Sh? Not at all! It simply tells us that until the days of Mashiah, there is always another level ahead of us.

    In fact the Ari Z"L states in Shaar Ruah HaKodesh, Drush 1, that in the last generations before the revelation of Mashiah, many people will achieve a level so close to Moshe Rabbeinu, that it will be nearly indistinguishable.

    So then it seems to me that we must in fact say that understanding is possible, and that we can in fact understand a great portion of Sod, far more than the elementals.

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  4. Thanks for your explanation, mekubal. Personally, I see no contradiction between the sources you cite and the quote from R' Brody. R' Brody is not saying that we can't attain significant understanding in pnimiyus haTorah, but that the degree of understanding that Moshiach will reveal will be incomparably greater to what we can attain now, for then G-dliness will be our immediate reality. Thus, whatever we attain now is merely a preparation for the ultimate revelation of pnimiyus haTorah via Moshiach.

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  5. mekubal said...

    With all due respect to the great Tzadik R' Brody, his explanation is quite simplistic.

    Mekubal's comment was elevated to a full post (for some reason). I have therefore responded to his comment there.

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