Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the sin of avoiding doubt

The Chasam Sofer is known for his conservatism (e.g. “chadash asur min haTorah”); it was therefore striking to see his comments in last week’s parsha (link, d"h v'kamta) extolling the virtue of questions. “Ki yipaleh mimcha davar,” when you have doubts and uncertainty, “v’kamta v’alisa,” you will grow and rise to greater spiritual heights from the experience. Hashem sends us doubts and questions and to ignore them is to push aside the opportunity for discovery. The Chasam Sofer goes so far as to say that one will be punished for such complacency. The struggle to understand, not the acceptance of pre-established truths, is at the heart of religious development.

There are, of course, dangerous question. Pharaoh asked, “Mi Hashem asher eshma b’kolo?” – Who is G-d that I should obey him? But, writes the Chasam Sofer, the Torah assumes and promises that well meaning questions, questions that are rooted in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, will not lead one astray. Later in the parsha we read that if, “V’shamarta kol chukav kol hamachala asher samti b’Mitzrayim lo asim alecha,” if one observes the chukim, then Hashem will provide protection from the afflictions of Mitzrayim. The Hafla’ah explains that if we cherish and guard (shamar = guard) that which we cannot yet understand (chukim) and are undeterred in our pursuit of answers, Hashem promises us that He will protect us from falling prey to the doubt-disguised-as-questions which afflicted Pharoah.

My son told me recently that he heard someone relating a conversation that he had had with a certain Rosh Yeshiva who learns and teaches Maharal weekly. This individual, someone who appreciates the greatness of Maharal, asked the R”Y why these Maharalian type issues are not discussed with even younger yeshiva students so that they too can appreciate the depth of our hashkafa. The R”Y answered that we do not want to lead students to have too many questions. B’mechilas k’vodo, the cat’s out of the bag! By not learning hashkafa with students you are not safeguarding them from questions – you are just depriving them of much needed answers.


  1. Teachers must not underestimate their students if they want them to grow.

    But to avoid underestimation, they need to get to know the students better.

  2. "By not learning hashkafa with students you are not safeguarding them from questions – you are just depriving them of much needed answers."

    Excellent point. For your sake and your son's sake, I hope this was not his R'Y.

  3. This is awesome