Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Seven Branches of Wisdom

Rav Ahron Soloveichik
The following is the message I gave to my grandson Yitzchok. It was delivered yesterday on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah and is based on the words or my Rebbe, Rav Aharon Soloveichik. Although it was meant for my grandson, its message is timeless - and important for all Torah believing Jews. 

Yitzchok: As a Kohen, your Bar Mitzvah Parsha of Behaloscha…  has particular significance for you.

HaShem tells Moshe Rabbenu to speak to his brother Aharon and tell him; Behaloscha Es HaNeros El Mul Pnei HaMenorah Ya-iru Shivas HaNeros – “When you light the Menorah – toward the face shall the seven lights be lit.”

Rashi tells us that the reason this Parsha was put immediately after the Parsha dealing with theKarbonos of the Nisi’im was to make Aharon overcome his sadness at not being part of that. Hashem wanted him to know that… HIS role was greater than that of the Nesi’im.

What is so special about the lighting the Menorah? My Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik addresses this issue. The Meiri and other Rishonim say that the Menorah’s  seven lights represent the seven wisdoms. The Rishonim classify them as follows:

1) Tevunah, the ability to understand and draw conclusions.
2) The knowledge of nature - in subjects like chemistry and physics.
3) The knowledge of the soul – or as Rav Aharon puts it, the study of psychology.
4) The knowledge of biology
5) Music
6) Metaphysics… (philosophy)  and
7) The knowledge of Torah …. which is the most significant branch.

The P’as HaShulchan tells us in the name of the Vilna Gaon that ‘all knowledge is necessary for the understanding of the Torah.’ Rav Baruch MiShklov who was a Talmid of the Vilna Gaon tells us in the introduction to his translation of Euclidean geometry that for every measure of knowledge one is missing…    in Torah, this lack of knowledge is a hundredfold.  He said this in the name of his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon.

The Rambam has 2 preambles to his Mishnah Torah - both quoting from Tehilim. The first: “I will have no embarrassment anymore when I gaze at all your Mitzvos.”  (19:26) 

The second: “Show your kindness to those who know you and your righteousness to the straight of heart.” (36:11)

The Rambam ends his Mishnah Torah with the words “Finished is Hilchos Mamrim and with it the whole work: Blessed is He Who spoke - and the world was created in its detail and complete!”

How are we to interpret these words?

Rav Aharon tells us that he heard this from his mother, Rebbetzin Pesha Soloveichik, who was a scholar in her own right. There is a basic difference between the poet and the scientist.

The poet describes the wonder and glory of the overall image - like an entire forest or a garden and proclaims the words of Tehilim: “How vast are your creations… HaShem!”(104:24)

The scientist does not look at the forest. He looks at the individual details of…  say a species of flower. He will look at it under a microscope and examine the protoplasm, cytoplasm and all of their other components.

Which approach is of greater value? Both The poet and the scientist are essential. In fact the Rambam implies in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah the the Mitzvah of loving God includes the obligation to study nature in all of its realms!

In his Sefer HaMitzvos the Rambam says the following:  The 3rd of the Mitzvos Aseh…  is Ahavas HaBorei - to love the Creator… via thinking about… and contemplating… His Mitzvos,  His sayings,  and His works!

In other words… the love of God - is derived primarily through the contemplation of Torah. Only after that can one delve into nature.

Why must one first contemplate the Torah? Because if one starts to contemplate nature before studying Torah… it will not be conducive at all to Ahavas HaBorei - Love of the Creator.

Albert Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of the past few centuries – even greater than Sir Isaac Newton! Did Albert Einstein achieve Ahavas HaBorei?No, he did not. That is because he did not precede his study of science… with the study of Torah.

Rashi tells us that the expression “Mul Pnei HaMenorah” means that six branches of the Menorah faced the Ner Maaravi – the central branch. That branch was actually the body of the Menorah itself…  and IT represents Torah. The wicks in the six branches faced inward toward the middle branch. All other wisdom must draw their inspiration from the Torah itself.

What should all this mean to you, Yitzchak? I think the message is clear. It is the same one I gave to your brother Dovid at his Bar Mitzvah.

You have the merit of having two parents that exemplify the seven branches of the Menorah. Your father is a tremendous Talmid Chacham - with few peers.  Representing the middle branch… he sees Torah study in the way of the scientist – by delving into the details of everything he learns. A truly great role model for you to follow.  

And so too - is this the case with your mother. Like Rebbetzin Pesha Soloveichik, your mother too is a scholar in her own right. She not only sees the trees, she sees the forest too. She is both a poet and a scientist.  And she has studied not only the primary branch of the Torah but the other six branches of wisdom represented in the branches of the Menorah. She gives over her knowlegde of both Torah and Mada to her students her students at Hanna Sacks. She did so following the wisdom of the Rambam. First she contemplated the Torah and then she studied nature.

My Bracha to you Yitzchak is that you should follow in the footsteps of your parents. Both your father and you mother. You are in a most fortunate position of having parents with a unique combination of wisdom represented by all the branches of the Menorah. Mazel Tov!