Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Recognition That You Are Owed Nothing Is The Foundation Of All

Suppose I asked you if you believed in atoms.  You would probably look at me like I was from another planet and wonder what I was up to.  (Fair enough... I'm usually up to something when I ask a question like that.)  Still, you would likely play along and answer in the affirmative.  What if I then asked you for evidence you have for that belief, being as neither you nor anyone else has ever or will ever actually see an atom?  ("Aha!", you think, "I knew he was up to no good!")

Now suppose I were to ask you if you believe that stealing is morally wrong.  Same eye rolling on your part, again deciding to play along and answer in the affirmative.  This time when I ask you for your evidence, however, your answer is, "I don't need evidence; it is logical that taking something that belongs to someone else is morally wrong."

Now we can begin.

There is a strange discussion in the gemara (Brachos 35a) (my free translation):
Fact 1: It is forbidden to benefit from this world without making a bracha.
Fact 2: Benefiting without making a bracha is tantamount to stealing from G-d. Question 1: What is the remedy for someone who transgresses?
Answer: Go to a חכם (one who is truly steeped in Torah knowledge and understanding)
Astonished Retort: Go to a חכם?!? How will that help? He already committed the crime!
Answer (Revised): Go to a חכם from the beginning to learn brachos so this won't happen.
Um... what?  First of all, what information did the revised answer impart that could not have been inferred from the original answer. Second, how in the world did that answer the challenge?  He still already committed the crime, after all!  Yet the gemara just continues on its merry way.

I propose that to understand this gemara, one needs to note its context (I know, I know, adding facts always kills all the fun).  The preceding gemara, in fact nearly all of page 35a is beautiful dialectic that begins with the question, "How do I know that it is forbidden to benefit from this world without making a bracha?".  The conclusion: It's logical.  Very cool; proposed sources right and left, all knocked down.  The arguments leads the reader to examine tiny details of halacha and fine logical inferences from rabbinic statements only to conclude: never mind, there is no proof, it's just logical.

As fun as that gemara is (I know someone personally who was positively giddy with excitement at the conlusion), but מאי נפקא מינה/what practical difference does it make whether making brachos is logical or based in fine halachic reasoning?

The answer is the strange discussion above that follows that conclusion immediately.  If brachos were based on detailed logic, so someone who doesn't know that logic will not make brachos.  There's nothing to fix.  It's like asking someone what evidence they have for atoms.  Not knowing is not a sin.  If you want to know, go ask a scientist; if you don't, don't.

But if a person doesn't know stealing is wrong, then he needs more than learning the laws of torts.  In fact, before he learns the laws of tort he very much needs to go to a חכם and have an attitude adjustment.  The questioner above wanted to know what was the remedy to having failed to make a bracha.  The answer was that the issue is not that he didn't make a bracha, the issue is that he obviously does not understand what a bracha is and the statement it makes.  That person needs to go to a חכם  and start over -- from the beginning of his understanding of what he is doing in this world -- and start learning brachos.

After that, we can talk about atoms.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

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: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…