Sunday, July 16, 2006

Chidushim

A Chidush is anything that you didn't know, and then figured out. Even if it only clarifies the simple meaning of the text, it is considered a chidush.

Other Chidushim are those that others, even Torah greats, may not have known. Perhaps you will find an answer to a question of R. Akiva Eger ZTL. That is possible. Every person on earth has Chidushim that only he is destined to uncover. Without him, they will remain lost forever. Each sage has his own special part of Torah that is destined to be revealed by him, and so he may think of one or many of the possible opinions that were given on Har Sinai, and some other sage may think of others, but all those opinions are legitimate and given on Har Sinai. Even when we follow the majority, we still understand that the minority opinion was given on Har Sinai as well.

And the way Hashem arranged this system, no Tazdik can figure out the part of Torah that was designated for a different sage. But all the legitimate opinions were given on Har Sinai.
Moshe Rabbeinu knew all of this. It's just that Klall Yisroel was unable to absorb everything Moshe knew, so things became forgotten. You cannot come up with a Chidush that Moshe did not know.

Of course, if your Chidush involves explaining a novel pshat in a Gemora for instance, we assume - we hope! - that the sage of the Gemora knew your Chidush, or else you are attributing to the Gemora something it never meant. The same applies if you say a new pshat in a Rashi, etc.

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There seems to be a contradiction with regards to Moshe having learnt the entire Torah. We are taught that the Torah is infinite, and infinity can not be reached, so how is this possible? Infinite means something different when we use it to describe Hashem or the Torah, than when we use it to describe the universe.

With regard to physical things, "infinite" means a never ending quantity, or distance, or size, of something. The "infiniteness" is that there is so much of whatever, that it cannot be measured. But the item itself, in lesser quantity, is very finite.

When we say Hashem is infinite, we mean a totally different thing. Hashem's infiniteness is not due to the fact that there is so much of Him, but rather His very nature is beyond physical characteristics. It is not just that he cannot be measured, but rather any and all physical characteristics does not apply to Him.

The same thing with the Torah. Every word of the Torah is made of the infinite character of Hashem. It is beyond time and space. Not merely that it has so much of it.

When we say that a Godol knows "all the Torah", it is an exaggeration, a figure of speech. It doesn't really mean He knows all of it. Nobody can - since it is infinite.

When we say that the Malach teaches the baby the entire Torah, the commentaries explain that the "whole Torah" means a soul that is made out of the Torah, which is infinite. But it does not mean he actually hears an infinite amount of words.

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Chidushei Torah are simply explanations of what the Torah means that are not apparent at first glance. Sometimes, they will not be apparent to anyone except the person who figures out the chidush.

But the idea behind all chidushim is that they explain what the text, be it Chumash, Gemora, or Mishna Brurah - means to say, as opposed to finding a place in the text to fit in what you want to say.

So the best type of Chidushei Torah is those which resolve difficulties in the text. Others don't necessarily resolve difficulties but enhance our understanding of the text.

The goal in creating a chidush is that the chidush should be true, that is, your chidush should actually reflect the intent of the text.

So obviously, you can't just decide whatever you want as a chidush. In order to qualify, it has to be reconcilable with the entire rest of the Torah, for if your chidush contradicts something else in the Torah, then according to you the Torah contradicts itself. Your chidush has to be something that the Torah would actually mean to say, as opposed to just some thought that you came up with and would like the Torah to say.

That in itself suffices to explain why the Ramban's chiddushim are better than ours - in order for an idea to be legitimate it has to be in line with every single thing the Torah has to say, and who can say for sure that his chidush qualifies?

The Ramban can. You’re talking about someone who correctly understood all of the Torah, all of its aspects, and was able to know whether what he thought of is in line or contradicts, directly or indirectly, explicitly or by implication, openly or by any possible derivation, even the most hidden message the Torah contains.

That is why the best chidushim - and in some schools of thought the only really good ones - are those which they refer to as "muchrach", that is, those that explain things without the need for any additional ideas or explanations. They're more like discovering things that are obviously there, but unnoticed or unnoticeable at first glance, as opposed to having to add something that wasn't there before.

These are the kind of chidushim which, after hearing them, you say to yourself, "Darn! Why didn’t I see that?"

The more a chidush helps us understand a posuk the better it is; the more it takes us away from a posuk the worse it is. This is really what "poshut pshat" means - the poshut pshat is not chas vsholom the literal translation (literal translations are not the same as pshat - when you say "the early bird catches the worm", the pshat in what you said was that it's good to be early; the literal translation would have you talking about worms and birds and that's clearly not what you meant!), but rather what the posuk really means to say.

As an example of a marvelous chidush which also is "pshuto shel mikra" I will use the world famous Bais Halevi on the conversation between Yosef and his brothers.

Yosef's brothers told him that they have to bring Binyamin back or else their father will die of grief. Yosef then reveals himself to the brothers, saying "I am Yosef, is your father alive?" The posuk then says that the brothers were "shocked" by the revelation and could not answer him.


Problem: Why did Yosef ask if their father was alive? Didn't they just tell him that they have to bring back Binyamin or else he will die? So Yosef knew that their father was alive!

Another mystery: The Medrash comments on these pesukim: "Woe is to us on the day of judgment! For Yosef gave mussar to his brothers and they were unable to answer him. So too will Hashem judge us all according to what we are!" Question: What in the world does this statement have to do with the episode of Yosef and the brothers? And what is the Medrash trying to tell us anyway? How else would Hashem judge us - according to that we are not?!

Answer: Yosef meant something totally different. When Yosef heard the brothers say that they have to bring back Binyamin or else their father would die, he refuted them. "Are you really so concerned about your father dying because of grief because Binyamin will disappear? Well, you're talking to the wrong person. You know who I am? I am Yosef - the one you people sold into slavery and told our father that I was dead! Why weren't you concerned about your father when I disappeared the way you claim you're concerned now over Binyamin? I am Yosef - 'ha'od avi chai' - Is my father still alive? Your father obviously didn't die when I disappeared, and you obviously didn't think he would - so why are you suddenly so concerned now??

And that's what the Medrash means. That's why the brothers "couldn't answer" him. He disproved their seeming concern for their father's welfare in the sharpest of ways. He showed them that they are hypocrites - that they themselves contradict what they claim to be.

That's what the Medrash means when it says "Woe to us on the day of judgment, when G-d judges us according to what we are", meaning, whenever we make some excuse to Hashem why we didn’t do this or that Mitzvah, Hashem will show us that we are phonies based on things we ourselves did. When we claim that we didn't learn so much because we didn’t have time, Hashem will say "but look how much time you had to talk on the phone and go to the movies!"; when we say we were too tired to learn Torah Hashem will say "If you were so tired how come you had enough strength to go to Blockbuster and rent a video?"

That's a chidush. Before the chidush we had problems in the posuk. After the chidush we have beauty, clarity, and meaning.

When someone says a chidush you want to ask, "Why do you need to say that chidush? What was wrong with the posuk beforehand? Does your chidush make the posuk any more understandable than it was beforehand?"

If the answer is "no", then the question is, "what then makes you think the chidush is true?"

So if I say for instance, "Bereishis bara elokim" - my chidush is: Bereishis means not just "at the beginning" time-wise, but also "in the front" - at the forefront of creation is our universe, but there are many universes besides ours that was created - many things besides shamayim vaaretz. These universes are not made up of shamayim vaaretz but other things that are beyond our comprehension"

You want to ask me: "What good does your chidush do?" Does it make the posuk easier to understand? (no). Does it solve any problems or answer any questions? (no). So then: How do you know that that is what the posuk is meaning to tell us?

And I would be stuck. Such a thought is not a chidush - it's babble.

There has to be some reason that you chose your chidush-explanation as opposed to any other possible explanation.

If there is no reason, then the chidush is useless.

(Note: There is another approach, called "drush", where you would use the words of the posuk out of context in order to teach a lesson. The idea is that the Torah, which contains infinite wisdom, contains any and all lessons that can be derived out of its wording no matter how you look at it. However, because the possibilities of drush are unrestricted by context, it can not mean to prove anything; it is merely meant to derive from the wording of the pesukim a lesson that we already have legitimately derived elsewhere, or some teaching that we otherwise know to be true regardless of the posuk.)

Someone once told me about some "chidush" they had, that when the posuk says "v'kivshuhah" regarding Adam conquering the world, that it really means "you should learn everything about the world". The person who said it claimed that it was "his chidush."

Of course, it is not a chidush at all, because why in the world would lead us to believe that this is what the posuk means? Nothing at all. Its the same as my Bereishis bara elokim "chidush" above. He may as well have said "vekivshuha" means that we must buy up all the land in the world, thereby "conquering" it; or that we must go all over the world and plant flags with our pictures on them on all continents, thereby "conquering" the world.

This stuff is not Chidushei Torah – it’s trying to fit your own hashkofos into the posuk. Its not even legitimate drush, because the legitimate kind of drush demands that the lesson have some sort of basis before you fit it into the posuk. It has to stand alone, make sense by itself, even before the derivation from the posuk.

And even if this "lesson" would have some basis, it would be very low quality drush anyway - what does the word "kibush" have to do with learning stuff? How do you associate learning with conquest? If I learn about something that means I "conquered" it? This is worse than drush - this is just making my own translations.

As far as Torah Sheba'al Peh and the seeming departures from pshat there, Torah shebiksav means nothing unless is reconciles with Torah shebal peh. So if the posuk says "an eye for an eye" we know it does NOT mean to knock out the perpetrator’s eye. That is simply wrong pshat - not according to any derech whatsoever.

The same applies to the entire Torah.

You would have a legitimate question, however, if you would ask "If the Torah meant payment and not poking out eyes, why didn’t it just say 'you should pay'?" And if you can find an acceptable answer to that question, you’d have a good chidush, since it increases your understanding of the posuk, and solves an issue for you.

But what you cannot do, is to say that posuk does indeed mean literally "an eye for an eye." Our Torah itself - in the Oral section - says that’s not the case.

Even if you don't know a reason why the Torah would word the posuk like that, you still can't attribute to the posuk something that it does not mean. When discussing chidushim, you should always remember Rav Chaim Brisker's rule about questions that you don’t have answers for:

"It's better to remain with a good question than to have a bad answer."

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In theory, you can come up with your own opinions. Of course you have to think. And many people do not, and come to premature conclusions

Many of the Chazals and the teachings that are in the Gemarah, etc., are so complex, that your conclusions are indeed premature, and easily blown away upon further investigation into the topics. In order to be able to conclude "halachah lmaaseh" or "haskkafa lmaaseh" you have to possess greater amounts of information and greater Torah-interpretation skills than what the average person has, and surely you can't do it as described above.

Only a reliable, capable, and skillful Rav can do that. For you, you should get a hold of one of those reliable, skillful and capable Rabbonim and "Make for yourself a Rebbi." He will also explain to you those Chazals and teachings that you learned in light of bottom line halachic and hashkafic practice.

It’s just as difficult to derive hashkafa as it is halachah, and just as you would not be a posek on your own, you would not be a hashkafic mentor on your own either.

At the very least, get a hold of some seforim written by such people. Its better, of course, to have someone live, but seforim are great both in conjunction with, or even in the absence of, a real Rebbi.

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