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1 Sivan 5765 - June 8, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Torah Knowledge and Other Knowledge

by Mordecai Plaut

We are completely different since that Shavuos, having received the Torah. We would not want to imagine ourselves as we would be without the Torah, but in modern times there are all too many, and all too powerful, demonstrations of the depths to which man can sink all around us.

Torah is completely unique. It is not another system; it is not just another body of knowledge.

The Torah is the word of Hashem to mankind. There is nothing else like it. It is instructions for how to live on a personal and national level. It is knowledge about the secrets of the universe. It presents a standard for a life that is so high that we have never — yet — achieved it, but we continually strive for it.

All the hard-won achievements of the rest of the world are of a totally different character. The scientific knowledge of the rest of the world is not competitive with Torah. It is based on physical experience and always advanced with admitted uncertainty. It is the best guess today, but who knows what the morrow may bring? New facts may be discovered; new ideas may be proposed.

The Lancet (1997 p. 1752; 1998 p. 376) estimated that the half life of medical knowledge is 45 years, meaning that within that period, half of what is known at a given time is discarded. A specialist in medicine said that after working for 20 years he found that more than 20 percent of what he had learned was never true in the first place.

This is not true in Torah, and it cannot be true in Torah. This is because Torah comes from the Source of truth and the Creator of the entire universe.

"It should not be imagined for a moment that there is a Jewish wisdom and truth — and together with it, and with the same measure of importance and authority, there are also non- Jewish wisdoms and truths; and when we have absorbed enough divrei Torah we can turn, in the same spirit, to the wisdom of the nations of the world. Then we would set up, in this spirit, knowledge next to knowledge, truth next to truth. . . . We are confident that there is only one truth, and only one body of knowledge that can serve as the standard [against which everything else is measured]. Compared to it, all the other sciences are valid only provisionally" (Commentary of HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch to Vayikra 18:4).

Vayikra 18:4: Do my mitzvah and keep my chukim to go in their ways, I am Hashem your G-d. The Safro draws some very important lessons from this posuk: "Loleches bohem" — make them ikkar and do not make them tefeiloh. "Loleches bohem" — your discourse should be only in them. You should not mix in with them other things from the world. Don't say, `I have learned chochmas Yisroel; now I will learn the chochmoh of the nations of the world — that is why it comes to teach you, "loleches bohem" you must not take leave of them. And it also says, "They alone will be for you" (Mishlei 5:15).

Torah must be learned and evaluated only within the tradition that we have that goes back ultimately to Sinai. The Torah is a complete system that can and should educate us. It can and should provide us with all the intellectual tools we need to discover the truth, and it can and should provide us with all the information that we need to discover the truth.

On the same posuk, the Ramban explains that a person's "life with mitzvos will be according to his approach to them. A person who does mitzvos shelo lishmon and in order to get a reward, will have a long life with wealth, and property, and honor. . . . And those who do mitzvos in order to merit Olom Habo, who worship from yir'oh, will achieve according to their intention: they will be saved from the judgments of the reshoim and their souls will rest in good. And those who do mitzvos from ahavoh, with the appropriate attention to the matters of This World, will merit in This World a good life as is common in the world, and in the life of Olom Habo they will have full merit. And those who leave matters of This World entirely . . . as if they were incorporeal, and all their thoughts and intentions are on their Creator like Eliahu . . . will live forever body and soul like Eliahu . . . "

No other body of knowledge does nor can make that claim.

Blessed is He Who has given Torah to Yisroel.


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