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11 Iyar, 5779 - May 16, 2019 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Yesodos Ne'emanim
Yesodos Ne'emanim

Understanding Da'as Torah: The Vision of Torah Leaders

Arranged by Y. Brym

This essay brings several sources for the concept of daas Torah.

The Rebbe of Orzhov, in the seventh part of his encyclopedic sefer, Eish Dos deals with the concept of da'as Torah at great length, writing that the general meaning of the term "da'as," understanding, is the ability to differentiate between the good and bad elements in situations where a less subtle grasp will see only one or the other. A lack of da'as can lead to grave errors in judgement, as something which in essence is bad is judged as good, or vice versa.

In massaches Sotah, daf 49, Chazal, referring to da'as as Torah, said, "The only thing which is considered da'as is Torah." This means that only through a thorough knowledge of Torah can true understanding be achieved. Only the use of that reasoning which is an application of Torah knowledge can reveal the essential nature of the forces at work in a situation.

The gemoro in Bava Basra (in the context of describing Torah as the antidote to the yetzer hora) calls the Torah "tavlin," spices. This is because the level of da'as which Torah can impart enables the subtlety of a situation to be clearly seen, in the same way that spices bring out the full flavor of a food, with all its subtleness of taste. The posuk in Tehillim (119:66) is a request to "Teach me good reasoning and understanding" (Tuv Ta'am Vo'da'as Lamdeni), juxtaposing "ta'am" with "da'as" for, as we have explained, depth of understanding makes subtle differences clear to the point where they can almost be sensed.

The Rebbe of Orzhov continues with the observation that a man who has achieved this level, and is imbued with this keen understanding, can make valid conclusions on the basis of his discernment without needing to resort to external proofs or the scrutiny of logic (while there will obviously be a logical connection between the conclusion and the observation that prompted it, here we mean to say that the conclusion does not have to be a necessary logical consequence of the starting point). A man of "understanding" can decide that this or that will ultimately be good or bad using his discretionary sense alone.

HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz expressed a similar principle in his hesped on the Brisker Rav. Reb Chaim brought the Medrash Eichah, 1:4 where the story is told of four Yerushalmis who travelled to Athens where they found accomodations at an inn. After being shown to their rooms they retired to sleep, while the landlord, who had heard about the Yerushalmi reputation for wisdom, arranged himself so that he would be able to overhear their conversation without them being aware that he was listening. One of the guests said, "I have been given a broken bed. Although the ba'al habayis has tried to arrange it so that I wouldn't notice, I can still tell."

"He is telling the truth," thought the landlord to himself.

The second guest then commented, "The meat which we were given here had a taste of dog's flesh."

When the landlord heard this he said to himself, "Lies and slander! It was meat like any other!"

The third guest then said, "The wine we drank had the smell of the grave."

To this the landlord's reaction was, "Untrue!"

Finally the fourth Yerushalmi said "You are commenting only on the food and drink? I tell you that the landlord himself is a mamzer!"

"How can that be? I know it not to be the case!" thought the landlord.

He didn't completely dismiss what he had heard though, as he knew his guests to be extremely sharp, and he decided to check things out for himself. At the shop where he bought the meat he found out that his sheep had suckled from a dog. Where he obtained the wine he was told that the vine which the wine was made from stood over a grave and after receiving confirmation of the comments of three of his guests, he assumed the last one might also be true and indeed, when he made his enquiries, he was correct.

It certainly required wisdom to detect that the meat tasted of dog, that the wine smelt of the grave and that the landlord was a mamzer, commented Reb Chaim, but what great wisdom was needed to feel that the bed was broken? Anybody would have felt the discomfort, so how did this serve as an example of the wisdom of the bnei Yerushalayim?

He explained that what Chazal are pointing out here is that just as it is immediately obvious to anyone if a bed is broken, a chacham who posesses daas can easily sense if something wrong with a situation or person.

In the light of the above, it is easier to understand how the chachamim who guide each generation may come to look unfavorably on particular aspects of Jewish life which, to the less sensitive eye, seem worthy of support (and vice versa). Even if they did not explain their position to us, we should rely on their understanding of matters, in the knowledge that they, with their familiarity with the Torah and its principles, are equipped with the da'as and the wisdom to be able to make such judgements.

This can also be illustrated by the law of hashovas aveida. The halacha provides two ways for returning a lost article to it's owner. One way is for the finder to announce that he has found something, and to ask those who come to him to provide simanim as a proof that they are the true owner. When a talmid chacham comes though, and recognizes the article as his own, even if he cannot give any siman it is returned to him. "A talmid chacham does not need to furnish proof."

Chachmei Yisroel have always had the ability to discern the essential nature of events and their significance in the wider context .This discernment is not based on their having amassed large amounts of information from which they then argue on the basis of probabilities, but on their appreciation of the true nature of the situation in all it's depth and in all aspects.

The gemoro (Sanhedrin 93:) explains the posuk in Yeshaya (11:3) "Va'haricho beyir'as HaShem...", which is describing melech haMoshiach, to mean that the Moshiach will be able to judge with certainty using his sense of smell alone.

"What does this mean?" asks Reb Moshe Feinstein (in Dorash Moshe, parshas Tetzave). The gemoro does not seem to mean that Moshiach will use the power of prophecy to judge, and besides, it is not even clear whether or not something known through prophecy may be used in making a judgement. Reb Moshe explains that the gemoro refers to a particular quality of being able to feel what is in opposition to Torah, and what is not. In fact, writes Reb Moshe, this ability is possessed by each and every true talmid chacham, with Moshiach being on the highest attainable level.

Reb Moshe expands on this idea, explaining that the avodos of lighting the menora and of burning the ketores represent two complementary facets of the task of the teachers of Torah. The light shining from the menora on the one hand, signifies the Torah's light which shines from the mishkan to illuminate the world and which is taught by the leviim and cohanim (Devarim 33:10). In addition to the teaching of Torah, the talmid chacham has the ability to discern which things will be beneficial to the cause of Torah, and which will be harmful, in the same way that a person uses his sense of smell to help him decide whether a food is still fresh or if it has gone bad and may be harmful to him. It is this function of the Torah teachers which the ketores represented and this is why these two avodos were performed together.

Were it not for the fact that every true talmid-chacham and yerei shaamayim has this quality to a degree, the melech hamashiach would not be able to use this intuition, as it would be considered akin to prophetic knowledge, lacking as it does a demonstrable basis and would be unfit for deciding a question of din, which the Torah requires to be decided by the logical process of halachic debate. Since though, it is a factor common to all who learn Torah in truth, and the moshiach will have simply a keener awareness of fundamentally the same nature, it becomes an admissable factor in considering questions of din.

Reb Zadok HaCohen (in his sefer, Tzidkas HaTzadik) explains another posuk in this way. The tribe of Yissachar is described (in Divrei HaYamim I, 12 ) as "knowing (the) understanding for the times, knowing what Yisroel should do." The Torah scholars of Yissachar, who shouldered the burden of Torah, and served Klal Yisroel as morei hora'ah, says Reb Zadok HaCohen, are the ones who know the needs of the times as they relate to the course to be taken by Yisroel. They are the ones who can appreciate what each new set of circumstances calls for from Klal Yisroel.

In explaining why it is only the talmidei chachamim who understand what the correct course is for the generation, Reb Moshe brings the posuk at the end of parshas Mishpatim dealing with the ascent of Moshe Rabbenu to receive the Torah. Rashi comments on the words "and Moshe came into the midst of the cloud" (Shmos 24:18) that this cloud was of a similar consistency to smoke and HaShem made a pathway so that Moshe could enter it. The pathway into the cloud symbolizes the transmission of the correct understanding of the Torah from one generation to the next. We are not able to acheive clarity in appplication of halacha, even in the years since the Torah SheBa'al Peh was committed to writing, by mere possesion of the texts, even with their perusal and study, unless we receive the traditions of the generation's chachamim. The Torah was given in a thick cloud and so that we can find the path of the true understanding of Torah, we have to be taught how to understand correctly and the path into the cloud must be shown to us as well as devoting the necessary toil and labour to the task. if we stray from Moshe Rabbenu's path into the cloud, the path which the chachmei hadoros have followed, in spite of all our calculations, we will be in danger of losing our way in the cloud's darkness.

Awareness of the existence of the beacons who light our path today will bring us the security of the knowledge that the path they indicate for us is a sure one. We beg HaShem to preserve among us the Chachmei Yisroel through all the time which remains until the arrival of Moshiach.


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