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9 Shvat 5775 - January 29, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Power of Curiosity

By HaRav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, Rosh Yeshivas Meor HaTalmud

One of the mightiest powers implanted in man is that of curiosity - the desire to know-it-all. Is this power advantageous? Is it a blessing or a flaw and curse? Let us examine it and see what lessons we can derive from it.

We have no means of understanding what really took place with Adam in Gan Eden before the Sin, but there is one point that we can learn from what we do know. Adam entered Gan Eden to begin with after Hashem coaxed him to enter with sweet words. Hashem said to him: You can eat from all the trees in the Garden. In the center, however, there stands the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, from which you must not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you shall surely die" (Bereishis 2:17).

All of the trees stand there, heavily laden with luscious fruit, each kind with its different allure. And there, in the center, is one tree which, forbidden, entices him more than the rest! Why did he see the need to eat from the tree that had been forbidden to him? What prompted this drive?

Our holy works explain that the temptation was a `sin with good intentions,' an aveiroh lishmah. Adam understood well that he must not eat from that tree, but he thought that by doing so, he could enter deep into Gan Eden. We cannot understand his motives and thought processes but we know for sure that the temptation was not a physical, gashmiyusdik one. The physical world had no allure for him. This is what the Nefesh HaChaim explains, saying that Adam was able to choose material pleasures but considered them to be like a leap into a burning furnace, which no rational person would do.

This was the situation he confronted and nonetheless he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. And this act lowered him to the level of Adam-after-the-Sin, a level where the physical- material temptations lie within us, and a sin no longer appears to us literally like a leap into fire.

The gemara in Nedarim (22a) states: R' Yonassan said: One who angers, enables many levels of Gehennom to rule over him, as is written (Koheles 11:10), "Remove anger from your hearts and eliminate evil from your flesh." Evil refers to Gehennom, as is written (Mishlei 16:4), "Hashem has made everything for His purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil." When a person is angry, he invites all kinds of Hell to rule over him; he jumps into a burning furnace without even realizing or feeling it and in some measure, may even derive pleasure therein.

This can be compared to a man who feels extremely cold on a winter's day, and in order to warm up, jumps into a pit of pitch. It doesn't take long for him to realize that he has sunken into the tar up to his neck and will soon be altogether submerged in it. At this point, he will begin screaming for help.

Sometimes we ask a yeshiva bochur, "How did you get yourself into this situation?" And he answers tearfully, "I thought it would be fun." Or, "I didn't believe that it would burn so much and be so black." He didn't think that far because the immediate temptation was too consuming and blinding.

That's how we human beings are. Our imaginations conjure up a different kind of life, as if something tempts us and we have to deny ourselves this thing, but when a person reaches an understanding in the depths of his deeds - he suddenly discovers the reality of the world.

The serpent, the yetzer hora, suggests to Adam that he taste of the tree. But Hashem commanded him not to do so. Why, then, did he succumb? Apparently, the evil inclination has its many ways and wiles, and that "the old, fool of a king" knows exactly how to exploit man's nature in order to trip him up. Let us try to examine those qualities which cause man to fall for the enticements of the nachash - the evil inclination.

The Tree of Knowledge — Pursuing Novelty

One of the strongest powers in the soul of man is curiosity. Every one is by nature curious: curious to know about the world and curious about chochmoh. Even someone who does not usually deal with chochmoh will enjoy hearing some words of wisdom.

However curiosity can also be his downfall, with regard to his status as a ben yeshiva.

A person works on himself the entire day to plumb the depths of the world of Torah. And after an entire day of learning Torah and avodas Hashem, someone comes late a night with a bit of news about what is going on in the world, and he suddenly enters an entirely different world, and he might spend an hour or two in pointless talk, that have nothing to do with his real world. The Gra wrote that the tumah of devorim beteilim is the worst of all.

What happened? What drew him to the emptiness?

HaKodosh Boruch Hu created man to understand and to learn. Curiosity is a result of this. If one sees everyone standing and talking about what is going on in the world outside... What? You haven't heard what happened? You're not with it? Ploni is against Almoni... You don't know anything!

Curiosity has the power to draw him to the trivial facts of the passing scene, but its proper use is to bring him to search for the secrets of Torah, to reach the true depths that are there. Torah knowledge has no bound: "Longer than the measure of land, and wider than the sea" (Iyov 11:9).

Yet the Ramban in his introduction says, "I know myself that my wisdom compared to the wisdom of the Torah is like an ant's egg compared to the sphere of the sky."

What a Person Must do To Live

Here stands a man, millions of light years below the level of the Ramban, facing the opportunity of knowing in depth the mystic secrets of Torah, while on the other side, he is being tempted by some juicy `news' which won't even be relevant two days hence. What shall he choose? Does it make sense that he should shunt aside the Torah knowledge, whose wisdom is broader than the measure of the world - for such inanity?

Let us imagine a family with members of all ages sitting at an exalted Shabbos table where the adults glory in the holiness and exaltedness of Shabbos, while a child will focus on a trivial toy which captured his attention on that Shabbos. This is what remains in his memory because he attributed importance to it. Why? Because that was the extent of his childlike perception.

A man can go through his whole life, and if he doesn't choose to enter more deeply and recognize that there is a world of greater heights in closeness to Hashem, pursuing His ways, gaining knowledge of Hashem and His Torah, he can whittle his whole life away with child's play, foolishness and idleness, believing that this is a smart way to live. He will convince himself that "True, the other side is a mitzvah, but this side is also interesting."

What this person is lacking is the realization that he is living in Gehennom and is not entering the Gan Eden of the sanctity of mitzvos. One who lives in Gan Eden knows that his world is one of revealing the glory of Heaven and the wisdom of Hashem, and sees that this world of his is exalted beyond measure since it is altogether infinite and limitless.

This lifestyle is not an addition to a lifestyle in the world; it is the only real world outlook in this world.


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