From "Surrendering Our Minds to God:"
- The religious Jew accepts the entire Torah as a hok, both in regard
to its immutability and also its unintellegibility....To be a loyal
Jew is to be heroic, and heroes commit themselves without intellectual
reservations. Only one who lacks the courage of commitment will
belabor the "why"....
Why the Divine Imperative for Mishpatim? We have spoken heretofore
primarily of the hok, the inexplicable precept. In fact, we perform
all mishpatim (mostly social laws) in the same manner as the hukkim.
The Torah does not assign separate sections to the hukkim and
mishpatim respectively; they are interspersed throughout Scripture. We
make no distinctions between the two as regards the quality and
totality of our commitment. Why, we may ask, is it not enough for the
mishaptim to be intellectually motivated? Why the need to add a hok, a
non- logos dimension, to social laws which conscience itself dictates?
Apparently, reason is not a reliable guide even with respect to
mishpatim. There are borderline situations which confuse the mind, and
consequently it finds itself helpless in applying its moral norms.
Since our intellect must weigh pros and cons and is slow and deliberate
in deciding, society starts to nibble away at the edges of marginal,
borderline problems. Life must be lived; before our logic can
formulate an opinion, society will already have weakened all
restraints. Permissiveness will have replaced orderliness and the
amoral in man will have emerged triumphant.
For example, the mind certainly condemns murder. This is particularly
true of the killing of a young working mother who leaves behind
orphaned children. But does the abhorrence of murder also apply when
the victim is an old, cruel, miserly woman who in the eyes of society
was a parisitic wretch, as in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment ? May
we murder her in order to save a young girl from the clutches of
degradation? May euthanasia be practiced to relieve the elderly or
terminally ill of further suffering? Here the logos hesitates, is
uncertain, and imparts no decisive guidance. We can easily rationalize
in either direction and no external norm is compelling. As a mishpat,
a social norm, murder may at times be tolerated; as a hok, the
prohibition against murder is clear and absolute.....
We have assumed that mishpatim are prompted by reason. Yet, in our
modern world, there is hardly a mishpat which has not been repudiated.
Stealing and corruption are the accepted norms in many spheres of
life; adultery and general promiscuity find support in respectable
circles; and even murder, medical and germ experiments have been
conducted with governmental complicity. The logos has shown itself in
our time to be incapable of supporting the most basic of moral
The Torah, therefore, insists that a mishpat be accepted as a hok; our
commitment must be unshakable, universally applicable, and upheld even
when our logos is confused. Without hok, every social and moral law
can be rationalized away, leaving hte world a sophisticated jungle of
instincts and impulses...."
~Reflections of the Rav, 103-105
He is explicating the idea that on Purim, men are told to drink ad d'lo yada, until they cannot distinguish between "blessed is Mordechai" and "cursed is Haman." He explains that this seems to be an extremely peculiar mitzvah, especially in light of the fact that Purim is comparable to Yom Kippur; how then is this mitzvah to be understood? He then segues into what initially may seem an unrelated catalogue of examples of places where people's sins were not forgiven, even though it would seem as though they should have been forgiven.
1. Moshe was punished for hitting the rock as opposed to speaking to it
2. The Meraglim (spies) were sent into the land with the best of intentions, and yet returned with evil tidings, which could only have happened if something was amiss in the original plan
3. Saul was faulted for not having killed Agag, and as a result lost the monarchy. The Gemara notes that David erred twice and yet did not lose the monarchy, whereas Saul erred once and lost it; why such severity by Saul?
Explains R' Chaim Shmulevitz, in fact, the key to these sins which seemed relatively minor and yet were not forgiven lies in a dialogue held between Isaiah and Chizkiyahu.
- In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz, came to him and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live34 etc. What is the meaning of 'thou shalt die and not live'? Thou shalt die in this world and not live in the world to come. He said to him: Why so bad? He replied: Because you did not try to have children. He said: The reason was because I saw by the holy spirit that the children issuing from me would not be virtuous. He said to him: What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful? You should have done what you were commanded, and let the Holy One, blessed be He, do that which pleases Him.
- ~Berakoth 10a
- The Gemara teaches us a new dimension of sin. Chizkiyahu was not accused solely of not begetting children: that transgression is not punishable by death. The sin lay principally in the use of his own reasoning to disobey the Divine command. One's attitude in doing mitzvos should be that of a servant to a master- he does as he is told, leaving aside his own reasoning. Trying to use one's own logic to qualify or bypass the Divine command is a breach in the relationship between Creator and creature, Master and servant.
This is the essence of the aforementioned incidents. The unforgivable sin of Moshe Rabbeinu was not that he had disobeyed Hashem's directive; it was that he had used reasoning and logic to reinterpret it. [Chazal explain that the motive for Moshe striking the rock and not speaking to it was in order to enhance kiddush Hashem, sanctification of the Divine Name (see Bamidbar Rabbah 19:5)].
The spies, too, were sent on the basis of Israel's own reasoning which did not stem from complete faith in God. This ultimately led to their slanderous report about Eretz Yisrael.
With this we can understand the dimensions of Saul's sin. David sinned terribly, but the transgression was self contained. Nothing was disrupted in the basic relationship between Hashem and David. Not so Shaul, who neglected to kill Agag because he felt that it was not in keeping with the Divine emphasis on the sanctity of life. This constitutes rebellion against the Divine command. There too, Shaul disobeyed Shmuel by dint of his own reasoning. That is why they are considered one sin, for essentially, they are one.
This ability to totally subjugate oneself to the Divine will, forgoing even one's rational conclusions, is the hallmark of Israel's men of greatness.
~Reb Chaim's Discourses, 141-142
R' Chaim also references a discourse in Sanhedrin 100a:
- R. Johanan was sitting and teaching: The Holy One, blessed be He, will bring jewels and precious stones, each thirty cubits long, and thirty cubits high, and make an engraving in them, ten by twenty cubits, and set them up as the gates of Jerusalem, for it is written, And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles.12 A certain disciple derided him saying, 'We do not find a jewel even as large as a dove's egg, yet such huge ones are to exist!' Some time later he took a sea journey and saw the ministering angels cutting precious stones and pearls. He said unto them: 'For what are these?' They replied: 'The Holy One, blessed be He, will set them up as the gates of Jerusalem.' On his return, he found R. Johanan sitting and teaching. He said to him: 'Expound, O Master, and it is indeed fitting for you to expound, for even as you did say, so did I myself see.' 'Wretch!' he exclaimed, 'had you not seen, you would not have believed! You deride the words of the Sages!' He set his eyes upon him, and he turned in to a heap of bones.13
- This story requires clarification. At the onset when his disciple mocked him, R' Yochanan did not respond nor punish him. It was only after he returned and admitted the veracity of R' Yochanan's statement that R' Yochanan was incensed. The reason is that as long as R' Yochanan's discourse was beyond his disciple's comprehension, he was not to be blamed for his disbelief. It was only after he had seen it, understood it and still persisted in emphasizing the role of his rational faculties that R' Yochanan became angry. At this point, emunah, faith in God, was called for; anything less was apikursus, heresy.
Having explained the uses and limitations of reason in the Divine service, we can begin to understand the essence of Purim. Reason is used year-round as a means to emunah. Once a year, on Purim, we strip away all traces of reasong (ad d'lo yada) and serve God with our faith alone.
~Reb Chaim's Discourses, 144