Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And This Is Why I Write

I love Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The man understands my soul. This is an excerpt from Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch by the Rav, pages 27-29.


There is another element in da'at Hashem, one that will be important when we pick up the biography of Abraham. To know God also means to have a desire to share one's knowledge with others, to have a longing to teach people, to bring the message to the ignorant and insensitive or to those unfortunate ones who have not had the opportunity to learn and to study. A man who is happy and does not want to teach others is not necessarily cruel and selfish. But he is not a scholar. A real scholar cannot contain what he knows within himself; he explodes. Knowledge entails a dynamic element; the knower becomes restless, the truth cries out from the inner recesses of his personality, and he must tell others.

The second principle of commitment is that the name of God must be on one's lips. "This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth; but you s hall meditate therein day and night" (Joshua 1:8). Why is it necessary to not only think of God and be aware of Him, but also to verbalize and externalize this awareness? Judaism has always required that man objectify his thoughts and feelings. The Torah did not underrate the role of subjectivity in religion, but the Torah was suspicious if one tries to reduce religion to subjectivity. Avodah she-ba-lev, worship of the heart, is a state of mind. But apparently the Halakhah was not satisfied with having avodah she-ba-lev arrested within the human personality. It required of us to externalize it through the recital of a standardized, fixed text of tefillah. Emotions come and go; therefore, we must act out our emotions. If we have God in mind, if we are aware of Him, we must pronounce it, verbalize it, say it in words.

I know that when I prepare a shi'ur, if I write out everything, and everything is neatly arranged, then when I deliver the shi'ur, it does not require so much energy and is not a strain for me. But if I don't write out a shi'ur- no matter how well I understand it- and instead I have to work it out during the delivery, it is a tremendous strain. No matter how clearly a person understands something, if he has not written it out, formulated it in words and sentences, it is still amorphous and formless.

The same is true of confession. It is not enough to repent in one's heart; one must formulate his confession to God in words and pronounce it verbally. Why? Man will discover many things he did not understand before when he tries to formulate his thoughts in words. That is why it is necessary for a person who is in love with God to not hide it, but to speak up, to express it, to verbalize it.

Judaism believes that words per se are the most powerful weapon God has provided man. Judaism believes in the power of the mind and the majesty of the word. Through the word, God created the world. God did not need words to create the world, but He chose the word as the instrument of creation in order to teach us that we can create the world through the word- and can destroy the world through the word. The word can be the most creative power in man's hands, but it can also be the most destructive power given to man. That is why Judaism is almost merciless with regard to lashon ha-ra, evil speech, and why it takes so seriously the issues of perjury, vows, and oaths.

In Judaism, the word is the mark of one's identity as a human being, in contradistinction to a beast or brute. In medieval Hebrew, the name for man is medabber, the "speaker." Judaism believes in the potency of the word. It is not just a sound, it is not just phonetics- it has a mystical quality to it. Hence man's awareness of God must be objectified in the word. "And they all open their mouth in holiness and purity, in song and hymn, and bless, praise, glorify, revere, sanctify, and declare the kingship of God" (Siddur).


inkstainedhands said...

That's beautiful!

I suppose it is one of the reasons why I love teaching parsha so much. I read at least six different miforshim on each parsha I prepare and I am always so excited to share what I've learned.

Anonymous said...

"A laugh is a smile that bursts."
— Mary H. Waldrip

Does your Torah have the same effect?
It should.

Noam the Preacher

Anonymous said...


Well said!

Anonymous said...

How about a new post already? Thanks.

Neil Harris said...

I haven't read the sefer (yet), but this is very powerful.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!