Tuesday, June 03, 2014

nature vs nurture

V’kol ha’am ro’im es hakolos… va’yar ha’am va’yanu’u...” (Shmos 20:15)

 וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק:

Why does the pasuk repeat two times that the people saw, “ro’im” and then “va’yar?” And why does the pasuk change the tense of the verb?  R’ Tzadok haKohen explains that “va’yar” refers to those who stood at Sinai and witnessed mattan Torah; “ro’im” in the present tense refers to us.  The experience of mattan Torah reverberates through history so that we can still hear and feel it in our time as well.

The gemara says that R’ Yosef remarked that if not for this day [of Shavuos], he would just be another Joe in the marketplace.  R’ Tzadok asks: were there no great people before mattan Torah?  Even before the Avo,s there was Chanoch, there was Mesushelach.  Why was Rav Yosef convinced that he would have been a nothing had there not been a mattan Torah?

There is a big debate whether intelligence or other traits are a product of nature or nurture.  Is a brilliant person born a genius because he has genius genes, or does he become a genius because of how he is raised or how he works to develop himself?  Pre-mattan Torah, great people became great by dint of their own effort.  At mattan Torah things changed.  The Jewish people were given Torah as a “morasha,” an inheritance.  You don’t need to do work to earn an inheritance – it’s bestowed upon you without your having to do anything.  It’s part of your nature, not something you need to nurture and develop. 

R’ Tzadok reminds us of the gemara at the end of Sotah where R’ Yosef held himself up as the exemplar of anavah, modesty.  R’ Yosef surely was aware of his greatness in Torah.  What the gemara means is that he did not attribute his success to his own talents and efforts – he attributed his greatness to the experience of mattan Torah that implanted Torah within him, as part of his nature.  I don’t know if there is a Jewish gene for smarts, or for other talents, but there is a Jewish gene for limud haTorah that each one of us possesses.


  1. תורה בגוים אל תאמין

  2. Excellent. Is the whole thing from Rav Tzadok?
    I wouldn't say exactly that you don't have to do anything to be zocheh to Torah. But I agree that even though it's a morasha and not a yerusha, it's still ours for the taking, albeit a taking that takes a lot of effort.
    Rav Rudderman used to say that Rav Yosef's point was that the Aseres HaDibros were later forgotten, because they were later given on the luchos which were broken, and everything had to start from zero again. Rav Yosef was sick and forgot his Torah, but he drew consolation from the first dibros, because even though the broken luchos meant they were forgotten, the broken luchos too were in an/the aron kodesh. So his Shikchas HaTorah did not mean that he was nischallel legamri. He retained his kedusha even when he forgot his Torah. This enabled him to relearn it to his original madreiga of gadlus.

    1. There is a Derashos Chasam Sofer that the "hai yoma" means the day that Moshe was mosif m'da'ato (not Shavuos itself) because the addition of that day led to Moshe coming down from Sinai on 17 Tamuz, a day destined for trouble, hence the sheviras haluchos. Breaking the luchos gives us torah sheb'al peh, which is all R' Yosef could learn since he was a sagi nahor and could not read pesukim. You can use that Chasam Sofer for R' Ruderman's point as well.
      >>>I wouldn't say exactly that you don't have to do anything to be zocheh to Torah.
      The problem is we are conditioned from birth (=nurture) to be olam ha'zeh loving creatures, so our innate abilities are smothered. Ameilus is revealing latest talent, not aquiring new skills.