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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

based on Ein Ayah, Shabbat 14:13

Keep it Simple!

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Gemara: Rabbi Yannai sent to Mar Ukva the following request: Please send me some of the eye salves that Shmuel (who was a doctor/scientist in addition to a great Talmudic scholar) made. Mar Ukva responded: I will send you so that you will not say that I am stingy, but this is what Shmuel said: A drop of cold water [in the eye] in the morning and washing your hands and feet in hot water in the evening are better than any eye salve in the world.

Ein Ayah: Wisdom always discovers new approaches and means of improving mankind’s situation, such as to heal him from his illnesses and save him from all of the things that can harm him. However, as science progresses and as its discoveries become famous in the world, so does the world forget the efficacy of the simple natural matters. Natural matters often serves as a stronger base for one’s salvation than all of the complicated and convoluted inventions of science.

This phenomenon is not only true regarding the physical world but even in matters of spirituality – in the levels of a person’s spirit, his ability to perceive lofty ideas, and reach high levels of spiritual attainment. While there are many teachings of Torah wisdom and ethics, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best (see Rosh Hashana 26b). The simple ethical values and pure service of Hashem in simplicity lights the eyes much more than lofty but detached brilliant ideas. The latter only are used to strengthen and adorn one’s approach to spirituality. The main idea, though, is to lead a religious life based on the precept of "Be simple/complete with Hashem, your G-d" (Devarim 18:13).

Obtaining high intellectual capacities and skills in a variety of walks of life should be within the grasp of everyone, even though there will be varying levels according to natural abilities. However, the most-travelled path should be the simple and healthy natural characteristic, which is of higher value than things that are more modern and sophisticated. That is why Mar Ukva had the correct answer to Rabbi Yannai’s request for the eye salves of Shmuel, the scholar, doctor, astronomer, scientist, as well as outstanding talmid chacham and holy man. That is why Mar Ukva, the head of the time’s highest rabbinical court said that he was indeed willing to give him the salve, but wanted him to know that he should not forsake that which is simple and straightforward, which gives good health and life to the body and soul. This is metaphorically represented by the bit of water in the morning and the washing of hands and feet at night.
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