Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Baal HaTanya - Don't ask a rebbe for secular advise

Baal HaTanya (Igros Kodesh #22): My dear friend...."Remember the days of old, understand the years of every generation" – has there ever been anything like this since the beginning of time?! Where, in all the books of the scholars of Israel, whether the earlier or later ones, have you ever seen such a custom instituted, to ask about a secular question, such as what to do in some mundane matter, even from the greatest of the early wise men of Israel, such as the tannaim and amoraim...but rather [people would turn to] actual prophets, such as there used to be, such as Shmuel the Seer, to whom Saul went to ask about the donkeys which his father had lost. But in truth, all matters relating to a person, other than something having to do with Torah or fear of  heaven, are not apprehended other than through prophecy, and not by a wise man. As our rabbis have taught, "Everything is in the hands of heaven other than fear of heaven..." And when our rabbis zt"l said that people "derive benefit from him [from a talmid chacham] by advice and sound wisdom," this refers to words of Torah, which is called "sound wisdom" [Translation from Rabbi Alfred Cohen in his article on Daas Torah]


  1. See how that igeres is taught internally in Lessons in Tanya.

    The commentary begins: The opening and closing passages of the original letter, which were not reproduced in Tanya,1 throw considerable light on the middle passage, which appears below....

    See inside. I tried to summarize, but my objections overly colored my summary. So, I deleted that paragraph.


  2. http://www.thejewishchronicle.net/view/full_story/10727586/article-Rules-are-rules?instance=home_news_1st_left_title

    I don't really care that the Aleph Institute is giving hashgocho to the Florida Bureau of Prisons as the criminals can eat raw potatoes as far as I'm concerned but it is alarming concerning the US military and other venues where they supply food. Why did Aleph who are Lubavitchers hire Sanford Dresin from the Delaware Vaad Hakashrus, a rabbi who is not orthodox?

  3. I've never understood this passage at all. It seems to me that people are reading the passage somewhat anachronistically, as if he is specifically limiting the scope of rabbinic competence.

    However, the Baal HaTanya is not saying that one should specifically avoid asking a Torah sage for advice on worldly matters. He is saying that you should not ask ANYONE (except a prophet) for such advice. No one, NOT EVEN a Torah sage (who, in principle, would be the best qualified), can give advice on such matters.

    This is a startling statement which is not followed by anyone. I can only conclude that the statement was intended as hyperbole.

  4. First, the Baal haTanya is obviously not talking about asking an expert about his expertise. His objection is exclusively to relying on a rebbe's siyata diShmaya or a RY's daas Torah (had the latter concept existed yet) -- supernaturally obtaining knowledge about the pragmatics of the situation.

    Also, I would think he is also not excluding asking career advice from one's rebbe when the open question isn't the career or its chance of financial success, but of its impact on one's avodas Hashem. If you're not sure about balancing parnasah and time home with the kids, or whether the job or the people it puts you in contact with might pull you down spiritually, shouldn't you go to a moreh derekh?

    Again, I would limit the Tanya's objection to asking about questions of metzi'us from someone who you think can help due to his Torah or connection to the All-Knowing.

    And LazerA, this attitude was common in pre-War Lithuania, and is still common in much of Yekkish Jewry and among Mod-O. I have no reason to believe it was intended as hyperbole, and I can even believe this attitude was common among Chassidim until a few decades into the movement (the time in which the letter was written).


  5. Micha,

    I do not believe your interpretation of the words of the Baal HaTanya is obvious at all. On the contrary, I believe it is entirely unsupported by his words, and is based upon your assumptions.

    The Baal HaTanya never even implies that the reason a sage is unqualified to advise on worldy matters is because he is insufficiently expert in such matters. Rather, he states that the reason that only prophets can advise on worldly matters - such as parnassa - is because such matters are hidden from even the wisest of men.

    כי באמת כל עניני אדם לבד מדברי תורה וי"ש אינם מושגים רק בנבואה ולא לחכמים לחם כמארז"ל הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים ושבעה דברים מכוסים כו' אין אדם יודע במה משתכר כו'

    As for the common practice, I am quite aware that many Jews - both then and now - do not believe it is necessary to ask for rabbinic advice on worldly matters. If I thought this was what the Baal HaTanya actually meant, I would be mildly surprised (due to the dramatic difference between such a position and the actual practice in all Chassidic groups), but would have no problem believing it. (There are a number of areas where the Baal HaTanya clearly stated policies that were not followed by later generations in Chabad.)

    However, I don't believe this is what he is saying. I believe that the interpretation that you and many others are reading into the Baal HaTanya's statement is based upon erroneous assumptions.

  6. LazerA: Are you suggesting that Lub's Alter Rebbe disagreed with Chazal's take on "verapo yerapei" and listening to doctors?

    As is clear (to me) from your quote of the Tanya quoting the Ari, he's eliminating the possibility of going to people who have supernal knowledge of the future. A professional does not know what will succeed (just as he doesn't know when mashiach will come, the next item of the 7), but he does know enough to help make an informed choice.

    And the Tanya continues by discussing the reduction of Torah to a means for personal success. Not relevent if he were including getting advice from someone with secular expertise.

    And (continuing down the text), this is exactly the contrast he makes with the rav in his role as yo'eitz (advisor), because he has the secular knowledge of astronomy and math sufficient to compute the calendar.



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