Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim

There are all sorts of jokes (mostly stemming from the non-religious yiddish literature, I think) that about the talmudic process.  They basically following the same format:
Two talmidim are embroiled in a heated debate and finally decide to go to the rosh yeshiva for clarity.  "Rebbi," says the first talmid, "I say the gemara means X; and I can prove it because of Y!"  "Hmmm," says the rosh yeshiva, "You are right."  The second talmid balks, "But Rebbi!  I say the gemara means A; and I can prove it because of B!"  "Ahh," says the rosh yeshivah, "You are right."  They both look astonished and a third talmid who had overheard the whole things exclaims, "But Rebbi!  They can't both be right!"  "Exactly!" beams the rosh yeshivah, "You are also right!"
That, I fear, is the outsiders view of "eilu v'eilu divrei elokim chayim."  The truth of the matter, however, is that contradictions and paradoxes actually offer the greatest (perhaps the only) access to the underlying spiritual reality that the physical reality reflects.

Howso?  Imagine walking into a university logic class and being told that you have two eye witnesses who saw the shadow of a certain object. One says the shadow is circular and one says it is rectangular.  You are told they are both excellent observers and they never lie.  Moreover, it is certain that there is only one object casting a shadow.  How can that be?  A circle and a rectangle are as different as can be!

The answer, of course, is that the object could be an ordinary can of soda.  If it is upright at noon, the shadow will be circular; on its side, rectangular.  So they are both right; both accurate descriptions.  The root cause of the "contradiction" is trying to describe a three dimensional reality with two dimensional shapes.  That means that there is no "one" true description.  There are many, many true descriptions; as many s there are different ways to look at the can.

The issue for the torah sh'b'al peh is much more complex.  First there is the problem if trying to describe concepts from a world of unbounded dimensions with words and examples that are bound to our world of finite dimensions.  Second, though, we are trying to describe a world we have never seen and can barely (if at all) imagine.  That is also why the gemara is so careful to clarify who has what opinion -- each perspective provides a consistent point of view.  Every "contradiction" actually brings out a new facet of that underlying reality.  Every paradox a richer appreciation.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…