Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mr. Know-It-All, The Making of an Apikorsis

Written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

(based on a derasha from

HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita,

Ravad of Yerushalayim)

Answering the Unanswerable

Let us make man in our image and form…And He created man in His image (Bereshis 1:26 - 27).

"Even though Hashem did not receive any assistance in the creation of man, and the plural wording of this verse leaves room for heretics to back up their mistaken ideologies, the Torah wrote this verse in the plural to teach us proper behavior and humility, that even a great person should take counsel from a smaller person. If the Torah would have written 'I will make man' we would not have learned that Hashem consulted with His heavenly court before crating man. The answer to the heretics is actually found in the continuation of the verse which writes ‘…and He created man’ and it does not say we created man. " (Rashi Bereshis 1,26).

Rashi's words are nothing short of astonishing. The Torah takes the risk of fueling heretical philosophies just to teach us about a good character trait? This can be compared to investing a million dollars for a possible return of a few cents. How can this serious risk be justified by this doubtful gain?

The truth is that Apikorsim will continue believing in their warped ideologies regardless of what the Torah says. They are motivated by their drive for an easy, pleasurable life and all other factors are irrelevant to them. There was no reason for Hashem to take them into account when writing the Torah. He was more concerned with teaching those who want to learn and this verse presented a valuable opportunity to teach humility – one of the most important character traits.

Rav Chaim Brisker was once visited by a former member of his community who had since abandoned mitzvah observance. The Rav was told that this man had returned to Brisk with a mission. He had gathered many perplexing questions about Judaism and the Torah since he had left and he wanted to hear how the Rav would answer them.

Rav Chaim replied that he was ready to answer questions, but he was certain that man did not really have any. Rather this man had already formulated answers to his so-called questions and was just looking for an excuse for a confrontation with the Rav.

Rav Chaim understood that when a person thinks that he already has all the answers, they are not open to hearing anything else.

To Know and To Believe

There are many fundamental philosophical questions one can ask about the Torah; Who is Hashem? Why did He create the world six thousand years ago and not earlier? Why did He create Man as He did? The list goes on and on, and the person who feels that he must understand every mystery in the universe with his intellect will be certainly be frustrated.

In actuality, all of these questions can be resolved with one simple principle. Hashem created melachim who have very high levels of perception. They have a much clearer understanding of Hashem's ways, and are not plagued by the questions that we may have.

However, Hashem also desired to created Man as a being with limited understanding. Due to his limitations, man’s Divine service must be based on faith and trust. This is the mitzvah of emunah, belief in Hashem. If we accept the fundamental concept that our intellect is limited, then all doubts about any other part of the Torah or Hashem's actions fall away.

The Rambam writes that there is a mitzvah "to know and to believe" that G-d exists, created the world and continuously manages it. Seemingly knowing and believing are contradictory concepts. Knowing stems from proofs and intellectual understanding, while belief is a matter of accepting something that one does not comprehend.

Rav Chaim Brisker explained that one must use one’s mind to achieve the highest possible level of intellectual clarity regarding Hashem's existence. However, each person will reach a point where he cannot understand the mysteries of the universe. From that point on, every Jew must trustingly accept those principles of faith which he is unable to grasp intellectually. It is impossible to understand everything, and the desire to do so stems from arrogance.

This is the meaning of the mishnah that states: "The difference between the students of Avraham Avinu and the students of Billam was that the talmidim of Avaham were humble while those of Billam were arrogant." At first glance these words are incomprehensible: Surely the primary difference is that Avraham's students were righteous while Billam's were evil!

But this mishnah teaches us that the difference between these two schools was rooted in the character trait of humility. Avraham's talmidim were humble and accepted that they did not have to know everything, and did not demand answers to sublime philosophical questions that were beyond their powers of comprehension. On the other hand, Billam's students’ arrogant assumption that they were entitled to know everything led them to eventually deny Hashem and His Torah.

A Drop in the Bucket

Rav Sternbuch once attended a gathering of scientists. When he was asked if he believes in the Theory of Evolution, he replied "It is complete nonsense with no basis whatsoever. If you want, you can believe that your grandfather was an ape, but I am a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov."

Later one of the scientists approached the Rav with a challenge: "Rabbi, they have found bones in Madgascar that have been proven to be millions of years old." Rav Sternbuch replied that this insignificant evidence proves nothing about creation. Due to the flood of Noach, the entire world appears much older than it really is.

All of the scientists at that gathering were intelligent people who were highly educated. How can an otherwise rational person come to believe a completely unfounded and illogical theory, such as evolution? Based on what we have explained so far we can answer this question.

The Apikoris believes that he must be able to answer all questions. If he can not find a logical one, he will develop one that is not intellectually sound. So much so, they can even suggest that Man originally descended from apes, even in the absence of any evidence. No matter how far-fetched his answer may be, the arrogant Apikoris will do anything to avoid admitting that the ways of Creation are beyond his comprehension.

Torah-true Jews understand that Man is not the descendant of apes, but was formed by Hashem from the dust of the ground, and will return to this source at the end of his life. We accept that our understanding of the universe is limited. We try and understand what we can and leave the rest to emunah.

The Vilna Gaon explains that the word Bereshis can be read Bara reshis, created the beginning, and that it refers to the creation of time. We cannot possibly grasp what this means, yet before its creation the world existed without time. So, too, many aspects of creation are beyond our comprehension yet we accept that Hashem in his Infinite Wisdom fashioned everything with great precision, and purposely hid their deeper meaning from us.

In Sifri D'tzinusa the Vilna Gaon writes that parshas Bereshis hints to everything that will transpire throughout history until the coming of moshiach. Even if we do not understand what is happening around us, we have emunah that it is all directed by the wisdom of the Creator of the universe.

There is much in this world that we cannot understand and we all experience the limits of our perception on a daily basis. Emunah is the path of humility, the path to next world, the path of the faithful Jew as he faces each and every challenge and question in his life.

(HaRav Shternbuch's shiurim on the parsha are being prepared to be published by Feldheim Publishers as a sefer entitled "Small Prophecies". For information about dedication opportunities contact

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