The ideal truth-seeker

(Sixth in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)

Religious man, in his longing to be joined with the whole cosmos lets go of his individual ego. In contrast Halachic Man (see recent posts) remains an individual. He very much belongs in the world. Truth sprouts from the ground and truth must come from human beings who seek it.

Halachic Man approaches the ideal world of truth using his mind and grappling with fine points of meaning in halacha. He is motivated by a love for truth. The endeavor to seek truth is a very creative process. From the beginning Torah was not a petrified body of law received passively. Its recipients saw themselves as partners in creation. Thus the essence of Torah study is innovation.

Chapter 12 came as if in answer to my complaint in yesterday’s post. Is it possible for Halachic Man’s spirit to be uplifted? The answer given is an unequivocal yes! Yes, but after deep understanding, not before. Yes, but not with a show of wild dancing. His subdued tone does not make his experience any less strong. It is only more modest. Furthermore any religious experience that is not based on consistent acquisition of knowledge and acute awareness will not last long. The parallel to halacha can be found in Socrates’ statement that morality is consciousness.

The work of seeking truth is not just an intellectual exercise. It extends to how life is lived. If halacha is decided inappropriately, whether it be overly strict or overly lenient, this is an affront to truth.

To illustrate a true man of halacha Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik brings the example of his grandfather, rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. When asked about his credentials rabbi Chaim didn’t list any of his certifications but instead answered: “To make a claim on behalf of the forlorn and abandoned when they are insulted, to protect the dignity of the impoverished and to save the oppressed from his oppressor” This is what truth demands, and a person of halacha demands truth. Evidence of this is in the Talmudic statement: “One who shames another in public has no share in the world to come.” The tabernacle rests within the borders of everyday life.

This chapter of Halachic Man ends with another story about rabbi Chaim. In his town of Brisk two people died on the same day. In the morning an extremely poor person died and in the afternoon an extremely rich person died. Halacha required burying the poor person first, since he died first. The burial society got busy burying the rich man, in spite of rabbi Chaim’s instructions to the contrary. Finally he came there himself and forced them to bury the poor man first. He won enemies that way but he didn’t care. A true halachic man acts on his beliefs.

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