Monday, November 14, 2005

The Επίκουρος Inside Us All

A relevance-enriched devar tora In the name of the Chief Rabbi of New FFD"M, in the name of R' Dessler:

Ribbi El‘azar, in Pirqey Avos, says da‘ ma shetashiv l’epiquros — 'know what you will answer a heretic'. But what's the point of that? People generally don't convince each other of anything when it comes to belief. And they don't even really listen to each other, anyway, as we can see from all the arguments people have about belief in the Djudeoblogosphere. You've got the Defenders of the Faith versus the Kofrim, and the Skeptical Believers versus the Hhareidi Apologists, and the MO Rationalists versus the MO Chassids... and let's not forget the Orthodox versus the Heterodox and the Feminists versus the Cartmanists! (no links... yall don't need me to tell yall who's who)

So, according to this devar tora, the point of "know what to answer" isn't to answer someone else's apikorsiše qushiyot, but your own! Everyone has questions and problems with their own belief system. You can't ignore those things, because then they just go subconscious and gnaw away at you unhealthily from the inside. Instead, what you need to do is take them out in the open, analyze them, and work on finding solutions. In other words, what Godol Hador (blogó livrakha) used to do until recently.

Now to the parsha. Vayeira’.
Specificly, Bereishit/Genesis 18:15 —
And then Sara denied it, saying, "I did not laugh!"
— because she was afraid —
And he responded, "Oh yes you did laugh!"

When Sara Imeinu heard that she would be giving birth soon, she laughed incredulously. Avraham was too old [and so was she], and she, logically had doubts as to how this prediction would come true. She had doubts, just like we do today. The only problem was, though, that she tried to hide it. She tried to deny it, saying "I did not laugh." But that's not how you deal with questions. Questions need to be dealt with out in the open. They need to be answered — or at least the attempt needs to be made. And that process, that struggle, that dialectic, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Godol is a brave man, hacking his way through the pardes like that.
His doubts, questions, and answers are already missed.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

Or, to put it differently, faith can well flourish in the internal dialectic between your own extremes.

If, on the other hand, you do not wrestle with these questions, how can you be said to have living faith?

Complete belief, with no argument, is static emunah. Dead faith.

But not only in your own mind, also with your chavruso, as it says, “Ve dibarta bam be shivteicha, be beiseicha, u ve lechteicha ba derech, u ve shachbeicha u ve kumeicha" – And you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and get up.

It has to be discussed. And there is nothing wrong with arguing these points. As Rabbi Chananiah Ben Teradion, in Pirkei Avos (perek 3, psook 3) says, "If two sit together and exchange no words of Torah, they are a meeting of scoffers, about whom it is said, 'The godly man does sit not in the place of the scoffers'. But if two sit together and exchange words of Torah, (then) the Divine Presence is among them”.

11/15/2005 12:26 AM  
Blogger Toby Katz said...

Yishmael is rejected from the beginning as Avraham's heir,and when Sarah sees him "playing" with Yitzchak -- type of play not spelled out in the Torah -- she says this kid has got to go. And G-d backs her up. This is many centuries before Islam.

11/15/2005 12:57 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Toby Katz:

I fail to see the relevance of commenting on that topic here... unless you've been banned from DovBear's comments? (i didn't think he was into banning, well except that one time with Amshi...)

Anyway, see the pasuq.
Bereishit 21:9
ותרא שרה את בן הגר המצרית
אשר ילדה לאברהם מצחק
That's the entire verse. No mention of Yitzhhaq anywhere — except when Sara Imeinu told Avraham Avinu that she didn't want "the son of that servant-woman" inheriting along with her own son, Yitzhhaq.

According to the pshat, Yishma‘eil is not an evil person. He's just not the son selected to pass along the brit.

11/15/2005 7:07 AM  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

An important post, not only because it introduces the term blogo livracha, but also for its own sake.

Sara Imeinu's reaction was a natural one. Fear and doubt are both necessary for growth. Why can't proper analysis take place post-fear? It's not the immediacy of the questions which matter, but that they are explored...I am not sure Sara is the best example here.

11/15/2005 8:47 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The problem that R' Dessler sees with Sara's actions isn't that she doubted. Doubt is good, and must be exposed to analysis and questions. The problem is that she denied it instead of being honest about her questions.

11/15/2005 9:36 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

TobyKatz is rejected from the beginning as GH's heir,and when Amshinover sees him "playing" with DovBear -- type of play not spelled out in the Torah -- he says this kat has got to go. And G-d backs him up. This is many posts before Tobypalooza.

11/15/2005 1:33 PM  
Blogger Jewish Exile said...

steg: sorry for not staying on topic, but I thought you might be interested by the post on ; it's a dikduk question.

11/15/2005 3:36 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Chief Rabbi of New FFD"M


In what situation did Kevoz HoRov deliver this DT? On Shnabbes last, after minchese?

11/15/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Jewish Exile:

Thanks! I've checked it out and put in my two shiny pebbles.

Mar Gavriel:

Nope, the rav (who people talk to in third person, which is so weird) gives a shiur once a week after Maìriv to... i think the word used was bochrim. Parsha midrash hashqafa stuff.

11/15/2005 4:10 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

(who people talk to in third person, which is so weird)

Yeah, the Gushies do that to Rav Lichtenstein, as I saw last Friday night. One guy dared to refer to Rav Lichtenstein as "you", and a number of other bochrim stared at him, shocked.

11/15/2005 7:20 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I hope to meet, see or at least be in the same room as him tonight.

11/15/2005 8:06 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

"I hope to meet, see or at least be in the same room as him tonight."

And afterwards, once you have organized your thoughts, please post about it. Some of us are unable to be there.

A groysn dank foroys,

11/15/2005 9:21 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Obviously, you've never seen the 1990's science fiction TV series Babylon 5, which posits a future in which telepaths really exist. How would *you* feel if you laughed *silently* (b'kirbah, inside herself) and someone--or in this case, Someone--not only heard you, but rebuked you for it? Hashem interpreted her laughter as a sign of doubt and a rebuke against *Him*--"Is anything too hard for Hashem?" Well, if Hashem spoke to *you* and accused *you* of not having faith, wouldn't *you* be scared out of your wits?!

11/15/2005 10:01 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Unfortunately, due to my slight hearing problems and the fact that the microphone cut out in the middle, i found it very hard to hear what he was saying. From what i can gather, it involved the idea that God only 'tests' people who will be able to pass, since the point of a test isn't to see if you pass or not, but so that you are transformed by the experience. Also something about how Avraham came back down from this encounter with God, this experience that made him a different person than he was beforehand, and still was able to relate to and interact with the servants and others who didn't share in the experience.

I did get to meet The President, though!


That hurts me. It hurts me right here.
«melodramatic chest-tapping».
I loved Babylon 5! It was one of, if not THE best TV show ever, and is the one i was thinking of specificly when arguing on some other blog months ago that TV isn't all smut and gore, but like any other literary medium has both disgusting (ex. Jackass) and edifying (ex. Babylon 5) works of art.

Who said "but you did laugh!", though? Was it God? Or was it Avraham? After all, there's a strange break in the conversation right there — God talks to Avraham, and then Sara protests. Was God broadcasting to both of them at once? Are we now hearing what Sara's reaction was, later, to Avraham telling her that God told him she laughed?

(understanding is a three-edged sword)

11/15/2005 10:52 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

If that's your thesis, that would mean that God never spoke to Sarah directly at all--the entire conversation about Sarah bearing a son was conducted exclusively with Avraham.

If God *did* speak to Sarah, He spoke to her *only* to rebuke her. Otherwise, He had nothing to say to her. Funny is't it? When God told *Avraham* that he and Sarah were going to have a son and *Avraham* laughed *aloud* (see Parshat Lech L'cha, Genesis, chapter 17, verse 17), God didn't rebuke *him,* did He? Avraham didn't believe it, either--otherwise, why would he have said to Hashem, "Oh, that Yishmael might live before You." Yet *he* was not rebuked!

11/15/2005 11:41 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

To me it sounds more like Avraham's laughter is happy; it may be somewhat incredulous, too, but unlike Sara he doesn't follow it up with "...and this is why you're just joshing me". Instead, he follows it up with "why are you going to all this trouble? couldn't Yishma‘eil be the heir you promissed me?"

11/16/2005 12:04 AM  
Blogger Lab Rab said...

The follow up question to Shira and Steg's discussion is: Why does God criticize Sarah's laughter to Avraham - but say nothing to Sarah herself? Sarah was a righteous woman and a prophetess. If God had a problem with her response, He ought to have rebuked her directly. Instead, God injects strife into the husband-wife relationship, which God Himself must famously mitigate(mutar leshanot mipnei hashalom).

While we're at it, why do the angels ask where Sarah is, and then deliver a prophecy that had no bearing on her physical location? [See Rashi who tries to establish a connection. Let me know if you find it convincing.]

And could it have been that difficult for the angel to inform Sarah directly about her new child, rather than force her to eavesdrop?

It seems that this was a setup. The angel asks furtively, in a stage whisper, "Where is Sarah your wife?" Sarah, having finished preparing the meal, is about to exit and join the company under the tree. However, when Avraham responds, "In the tent," she stays, so that her husband will not be embarrassed by her sudden appearance. However, her interest is piqued, so she eavesdrops at the edge of the tent. God wanted Sarah to hear the news thinking that she was alone, register a reaction of doubt, and then get called to task for it.

My only guess for God involving Avraham in a private matter between Himself and Sarah is that the confrontation with Avraham is itself part of Sarah's test. Perhaps, as Steg thought, it was meant to provoke introspection.

11/16/2005 2:40 AM  
Blogger Lab Rab said...


Some people, but especially our personal rebbeim and communal gedolim, deserve the respect they receive. Others, a la Achashveirosh, don't. It behooves us to learn the difference.

You should also be aware that in Hebrew the replacement "HaRav" for "Atah" is smoother and more idiomatic than the corresponding replacement in English.

11/16/2005 2:47 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Chief Rabbi of New FFD"M

or of FFD"H.

11/16/2005 2:48 AM  
Anonymous big brother said...

Reading God's announcement of Yitzhak's birth to Avraham and the later visit of the Angels, I don't see any substantial difference in Avraham and Sara's reactions. They both laugh and make the same point -- they're both too old to have kids.
I see a difference in the purposes of the announcements, however: #1 is part of the Breet being forged with Avraham. #2 is a specific newsflash ('remember that kid I promised you? He's coming by next year').
Here's an alternate peshat for God's incredulous response to Sara's laughter (think about Adam, Chava, and the tree-eating prohibition. nobody trusts their women in tanach): "God rhetorically asked Avraham, 'Why is Sara laughing, claiming to be too elderly? Didn't you tell her already what was my promise to you?? As the one becoming pregnant, Sara needed time to prepare. Don't doubt that she will give birth, just like I promised you.'"
[Of course, the bible critic in me points out that one of these promises uses E and the other uses J, so maybe there's another explanation.]

11/16/2005 7:21 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

In 1982, in an unprecedented and not much repeated event, Rabbi Noach Weinberg spoke in YU. He cited that mishna and said that the other meaning of it is to know what to answer to the apikores inside your self.

11/19/2005 10:50 PM  

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