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Igrot Hare’aya – Letters of Rav Kook #103 – part IV

Connecting Disciplines in Torah Study


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Sivan 23 5782
Date and Place: 21 Tevet 5668 (1908), Yafo

Recipient: Rav Yitzchak Aizik Halevi, the author of a monumental history of rabbinic scholarship, Dorot Harishonim. See Rav Kook’s letter to him (#99).

Body: [Rav Kook continues to deal with the place of prophecy and Divine Spirit in decision-making in halacha and in the difference between the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, the latter being briefer and more in touch with spiritual insight. A large portion of the rest of the letter touches on specific halachic discussions as examples of the concept, and we will largely skip that.]

On a matter in which there is no question what the halacha is, based on Torah logic, all agree that we say "It is not in the Heaven," i.e., prophecy and miracles cannot overrule the findings of halachic authorities. In contrast, when investigation of the roots of the Torah, whether based on the Written Law or oral traditions, leaves room for doubt, we do not say "It is not in the Heaven."

[The gemara (Temura 16a) says that during the days of mourning for Moshe, 1700 laws were forgotten, and Otniel ben K’naz recovered them with powers of halachic analysis. [The p’sukim to which the gemara refers tell that Otniel ben K’naz captured a place called Kiryat Sefer, lit. The City of the Book.] We must say that these halachot were forgotten totally, and therefore it was necessary to use intellectual prowess, not Divine Spirit. Furthermore, it is likely that Otniel did not have to arrive at a final decision. Rather once he was able to identify the logic for each side in the question, it was theoretically possible to decide between the approaches based on prophecy or Yehoshua’s or Pinchas’ Divine Spirit. However, it was the will of Hashem in the beginning of the age of the Oral Law to strengthen the position of the scholars in using intellect that emerges from the rigorous analysis of the Torah. Therefore, Otniel had the merit of finishing, reaching the resolution of the matter with analysis. Otniel was rewarded for his "conquest" by receiving the upper and lower well springs (see Shoftim 1:13-15). This is a hint at the two elements of clarification: that which applies to the intellect of the land (i.e., human existence) and that which relates to the upper intellect, which is impacted by prophecy and Divine Spirit. The p’sukim use the terms of smiting and capturing [for what Otniel did in Kiryat Sefer], for he did not suffice with involvement in battle (parallel to raising the logic of the approaches) but to conquest (parallel to arriving at a conclusion).

In a similar manner, there is intellectual depth that emanates from the analysis of the simple logic as it reaches the higher-level ideas. This cannot be spelled out in the Talmud, and it is reserved for great scholars who understand matters on a higher level. The Yerushalmi makes use of such hints because of its scholars’ advantages of living in a land whose air increases wisdom. The Bavli does this as well, but in fewer cases. [Now Rav Kook gives a few examples in the Bavli of hints of a hidden, upper-level understanding.]

… I have written these few ideas very hastily due to various tiresome matters that preoccupy me. I apologize if they are not written in a refined, organized manner, as would befit writing to someone of your great honor. I pray that Hashem will give you strength and that you will complete that which you set out to do. Namely, may you elevate the crown of the Torah, return its students to the glorious level of the past, and unify the holiness of the Rabbis with the source of the sanctity, which flows from the Torah of truth. Then our brethren will no longer be attracted by the lies, unwisely presented, of the lowly people who claim that our past is false.
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