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Thought for the Day: Knowing to Do and Knowing to Ask Is Knowing to Know

Ok, I know the title is tedious -- bear with me, 'k?

Facebook has a very advanced face recognition feature.  The company for which I work uses a similar technology to automatically estimate repair costs from photos taken by the owner at the accident site.  Very cool.  the core of the algorithm, by the way, simply gets fed millions of pictures and internally adjusts dozens of parameters to get the right answer.  I was complaining (more whining, really) about that, because it doesn't offer any insight into how we humans actually recognize faces so fast.  A coworker replied, "But it lets us automate a job down that would otherwise be completely manual."

That's the difference between a scientist and an engineer.  It's also the difference between learning Torah לשמה and learning Torah just to know what do to.  Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah with a resounding נעשה ונשמע/we will do and hearken.  Learning Torah to know how to do is just the נעשה part.  The נשמע part -- the part for which the angels themselves tied two crowns on our heads -- means we will learn לשמה/just to know.  However, to really know -- I mean really know -- just to know, you also have to know just to do.  You have to learn from gemara to Shulchan Aruch and from there really dig.

Here's an example.  The Shulchan Aruch says that if you put hot broccoli on a meat pan, you can later serve that broccoli mixed with hot cheese; the Rema says that you shouldn't, but after the fact it is ok.  Seems like a simple case and that your S'fardi friends will be enjoying their broccoli with hollandaise, while you will either be eating plain broccoli or grumpily eating your "after the fact, I guess it's ok, if you really need it" dinner.  עד כאן נעשה... on to נשמע.

Here we go.  First, does "hot broccoli on a meat pan" mean that you actually cooked the broccoli in that pan, or just served it on that pan?  Most authorities will allow you to serve broccoli with cheese that was once served in a meat dish.  However, if you cooked that broccoli in the meat pan, things get trickier.

Second, what does "after the fact" mean?  Does it mean you have already cooked the dish and now you are wondering if you can eat it (and/or need to kasher the pots and utensils)?  Maybe it means you have some broccoli leftover (hard to believe, I know) from Shabbos and now want to make a nice milchig brunch on Sunday morning.  Or maybe it even means that you don't have any milchig pots, so you want to cook the broccoli in a fleishig pot with the intention of serving it with hollandaise at Sunday brunch.

Also, how bad does it have to be for "after the fact, it's ok" to kick in?  Large monetary loss?  Embarrassment at not having the promised dishes?  You don't have enough milchig pots to cook everything at once, so it's a hassle if you can't do this?

How likely is it that you will hit all those situations in your lifetime (unless you are R' one moment, other line Fuerst, of course)?  Not so likely.  But to really understand the underlying intent; to truly learn לשמה, you are going to need to explore all of those situation and what everyone over the last 3,000 years has had to say about it.

We got an email last week that a coworker is retiring.  One of the ladies (a nice Korean girl) said, "Wait? She's not sick or anything?  Just retiring?! What will she do?"  I said I'd have lots to do.  She said it would be fun for a couple of weeks, but then she'd get bored.  I feel a little badly for her...


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