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To Learn, You Need To Ask Questions

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#1 Rabbi Shapiro

Rabbi Shapiro


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Posted 04 December 2011 - 09:01 AM

We say Al hanisim on Chanukah and on Purim. Yet even though the two tefilos covey the same idea, the Bnie Yisaschar points out that there are some differences in the way they are worded:

1) On Chanukah, we refer to Matisyahu as “Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Gadol”, whereas on Purim we refer to Mordechai simply as “Mordechi”. No “ben yair ben shimi etc.” Why do we mention Matisyahus father and not Mordechai’s?

2) On Chanukah, we mention that the Yavanim waged war “al amcha yisroel”. On Purim, we do not mention “al macha yisroel.” Instead we simply say that Haman wanted to destroy “es kol hayehudim.”

3) We’ll add to the Bnei Yissachar’s observations a very strange thing that the Meforshim point out about Chanukah: It is nowhere to be found in all of the MIshna. There is one mention of a Menorah that accidently causes fire damage, but as a Yom Tov, Chanukah is utterly omitted fomr the entire body of the Mishna. That needs an explanation.

The history books – Josephus and Megilas Chashmonayim – tell us that the beginning of the shmad against the Jews was not perpetrated by the Syrian-Greeks. It began by Jews – the Tzedukim. They were the ones who started to try to make the Jews “forget the Torah and violate the laws of G-d’s will”. They were in fact the ones who recruited the Syrian-Greeks into the fray. But the war began not between Jew and gentile, but between Jew and Jew – between the Jews and the Tzefukim.

The Tzedukim believed only in Torah shebiksav, not Torah shebal peh. The difference, of course, between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebal peh, is that Torah shebiksav only gives us bottom-line instructions. There are not hava aminas in Torah shbiksav, no mina hani milis, no lama li kra svara hu, no reconciliation of contradictions, no machlokesim – no shakleh vetaryeh – no questions; just instructions.

I am now going ot borrow a “vort” from Rav Leib Chasman ZTL in his Ohr Yahel. He says that when Yaakov was fighting with the malach, the sar shel esav, and asked the evil malach its name, the malach answered, “Why are you asking my name?” lomoh ze tishal leshmi? Why was the malach so reluctant to tell his name?

Rav Leib Chasman answers that the Malach did in fact tell his name. His name was “lamah ze tishal leshmi!” His name was “Why are you asking such questions?” (see the Ohr Yahel who uses this for his approach. We are going to borrow it for ours.)

We should also ask why on the other hand did Yaakov care so much to know the Malach’s name? The answer is because Yaakov wanted to know what “Yisroel” means. He knew that he was granted that new, glorious name Yisroel” because he defeated this malach. So he wanted to know what the essence – the name, since the essence of a malach is its name – of the malach was that you have to defeat in order to be called Yisroel. What power is it that you have to defeat in order to be called Yisroel? What hurdle does one have to overcome in order to merit the great name Yisroel?

Who are you, Malach, that by beating you, one is called Yisroel?

And the malach answered, “The obstacle that you have to defeat in order ot be called Yisroel is lamah ze tishal – the Satan that says “why are you asking questions” is what has to be defeated in order to be called Yisroel.

Jews ask questions. We proactively seek the truth. We love quesiotns, because aim habayshan lomed – without quesiton you cannot learn anything. We are not scared of quesitons the way other religions are. We do not blindly accept what we are told, by society, by the newspapers, by anyone! In schools of other religions, when a student stumps his Galach with a question, he is reprimanded for asking. In Yeshiva, when a student stumps his Rebbi with a hard kashya, he is a hero! Questions bring out the truth, and when the truth is brought out we rejoice.

The Tzedukim did not believe in a Torah that asks question and raises difficulties. The held that Torah is simply blind instruction without understanding.

The Tzedukim believed that there is no such thing as understanding the whys and wherefores of Torah. The believed that questions should no be asked. They did not believe in the “Zurich iyun”s of Reb Akiva Eiger; of the chidushim of the Ketzos, of the milchamtah shel Torah that constitutes the Bris between Klall Yisroel and Hashem - the Torah She BalPeh.. Their Hashkafah did violence to the very name “Yisroel”, which we merited because we do REFUSE to say “lamah ze tishal”.

There is a machlokes about this, but there are those who say that the Yohanan Kohen Gadol who nwas the father of Matisyahu was the infamous Yochanan Kohen Gadol who became a Tzaduki. His son, Matisyahu, was the leading fighter against his father’s Hashkafos. Imagine, then, had Matisyahu accepted his father’s teachings on blind faith without asking Kushyos -- we never would have had a Chanukah miracle! But Matisahu did not blindly accept his father’s teachings.. He asked: If there is no such thing as Torah shebal peh, then how in the world does Pesach fall out in chodesh ha’aviv, the spring month, when every year the lunar calendar loses 11 days against the seasonal solar calendar, and so before you turn around Pesach comes out in the middle of the winter!

He asked, if all we have is Torah shebiksav, please tell me, father, how do we fulfill “vhayu letotafos bain aynechah”? What are “totafos” what does the word mean?

How do we fulfill velakachtem lachem pri etz hadar”? What is a Pri Etz Hadar? A cherry? A kiwi?

Please tell me, father, why does the Torah tell us to celebrate a holiday on the first day of the 7th month, a “day of blowing” is what it tells us to make. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A DAY OF BLOWING? WHAT DOES THIS HOLDAY CELEBRATE??

No. Matisyahu proactively sought the truth and found it. He did not blindly accept his fathers heretical Hashkofos. He defeated his father’s attitude of Lamah zeh tishal!

The reason we refer to Matsyahu not merely as Matisyahu but Matisyahu ben Yochanan is because the fact that he was the son of Yochanan is part of the Chanukah story; part of the victory of Yisroel over the heresy of Lamah ze tishal. It is part and parcel of the Chanukah victory.

And that is why on Chanukah we refer to the shmad as an attack “al amcha Yisroel .. It was an attack waged specifically against those who were worthy of that great and glorious title, “Yisroel”, those who refuse to say “lamah zeh tishal!”

Chanukah is introduced by Chazal in a very unusual manner. Chazal don’t say “On the night of the 25th we light candles”, the way it does for Pesach, or even, “Chanukah is the Yom Tov that celebrates etc.” Instead, Chazal ask – “Mai Chanukah?” What is Chanukah?. And in response to this rhetorical question the Gemora explains the holiday. Chanukah is introduced not like the other holidays are introduced – by way of instruction – but rather with a question. because the very essence of Chanukah is asking the question. Mai Chanukah - “the question of a wise man is half the answer” – Chanukah is indeed the celebration of the downfall of “lamah zeh tishal”.

The reason Chanukah is not in Mishnayos is because Mishnayos, though part of Torah shebal peh, is the instructive part of Torah shebal peh. The structure of Chazal’s teachings in the Oral Torah is to first give us the laws in the Mishap then to analyze them, in the Gemora. Chazal saw fit to leave Chanukah to the part of Torah she balpeh that asks and answers; that analyses; that reconciles contradictions and contains hava aminas and maskonos. Because that is what Chanukah is all about.

When you light the Menorah on Chanukah, you should know that the Ohr that emanates form the Menorah represents the enlightenment that you all gain by asking questions. And by getting answers to those questions. Lo habayshan lomed. If you want to be zocheh to the glorious title of Yisroel, you must ask and seek and find Torah.

Through our asking and answering and studying and learning and seeking may we all be zocheh together to the glorious and magnificent title of Amchah Yisroel!

The above was an excerpt from this 45-minute audio Shiur on the topic of asking questions, called "How Not To Become Esav."In short: The difference between Yaakov and Esav (like the Sar she Esav) was that Esav, all his life, held he did not need to ask questions. Yaakov, on the other hand, was always the Ish Tam - asking "Mah zos?". This explains many Pesukim in Chumash and statements of Chazal regarding the acts and fate of both Yaakov and Esav.