Friday, June 08, 2007

Etz Chaim?

I'm learning Mishle (Proverbs) for the first time. I'm back on my track of trying to go through Nach, at least so's I can get some idea as to what's in there. Most kids - even Orthodox kids - aren't exposed to very much Nach in their school careers. This is especially so with boys, who are instantly shunted to Mishna and Gemara once they're old enough. Nearly 20 years ago, while trying to learn a particularly difficult piece of Aggadic Gemara, I realized that part of the reason I was finding it so difficult was that I didn't know the events and people the Gemara was referring to. So I embarked on this effort.

Anyway, enough about that.

In Proverbs, Chapter 3, there are two verses that I find interesting, both in terms of their placement, and in terms of reference. I'm including the Hebrew here both to show off that I can (and that I'm practicing typing in it), and because the verses are well known in Hebrew.

17: "דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבותיה שלום" - It's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.
18: "עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאשר" - It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate.

Now here's what interests me:

First, we say these verses during davening, when putting the Torah away. Except, we say them in the reverse order. I'm wondering why?

Second, these verses, usually quoted in reverse, as mentioned, are often used by rabbis as referring to Torah. In other words, when it says "It is a tree of life...", the it is said to be Torah.

The problem is that's not what the verses seem to indicate.

To find what the verses are referring to, you have to go back until you find the apparent definition of "It" (or "She", if you want to be technical). So let's go back some verses:

16: Length of days is in its right hand; in its left hand are riches and honor.
15: It is more precious than pearls, and all your desirable things cannot be compared to it.
14: For its commerce is better than the commerce of silver, and its gain is better than fine gold.

Nope. None of these tell us what it is. You have to go all the way back to verse 13.

13: Fortunate is the man who has found wisdom and a man who gives forth discernment.

Aha!! We've found the elusive it! It is WISDOM.

So Wisdom is the tree of life.... Wisdom's ways are pleasant.

That does make sense. The problem is that rabbis all over the place don't tell us that. They say it means Torah. Now I suppose you could say that Torah is the Mekor Chachma - the source of Wisdom, and I wouldn't argue that point. But it does seem a little bit dishonest to tell us that the verse is referring directly to Torah, when it clearly isn't.

Once again, I don't, as yet, have an answer to these. Any thoughts?


Chana said...

To buttress your point, Job's Wisdom Ode makes much the same point and uses similar terminology.

I think the obvious answer is simple however. Many will simply quote to you the verse that states "The beginning of the wisdom is the fear of God." And where do we learn how to fear and interact with God? Why, the Torah. Therefore, it would seem, the beginning of wisdom must be the Torah. Which suggests that the Torah contains wisdom, or is wisdom. Therefore Torah=Wisdom and the whole query is easily answered.

Now, is that the true answer? I don't know...

The Half-Heretic said...

Thanks for pointing out the Wisdom Ode (I haven't gotten to Job yet.) The wording is interestingly similar. (One wonders whether Job read Proverbs, or Shlomo read Job?)

But my question is still, why didn't Shlomo just say Torah, or make some reference to chachmat ha'Torah or some such, instead of just referring to Wisdom? Why not be clearer?

Unless, perhaps, you're suggesting that, to him, they were essentially synonymous.

Hmm... I wonder... Can we understand the word chachma, in the parlance of that day, to be an expression meaning, "the wisdom of God as expressed in the Torah?" That would make it much akin to the modern yeshivishe phrase, "das Toirah," (except that I often don't accept das Toirah as das, much less, Toirah - but there I go again...)

In any case, it's an interesting idea. I'll have to think about that a bit.

The Half-Heretic said...

Actually, it wouldn't be at all like das Toirah, which usually refers to something said by specific people. This isn't related to a person, per se.

Ezzie said...

I was simply going to answer that perhaps Torah = Chachma. But I like the question better.

Wanna Saab said...

Ezzie or I might be able to refer you to at least one individual who is well-versed in Nach who might be able to help. 'Course by now you might have figured it out.

As for daas Torah, I think it depends on whose daas you seek.
If you have a rav, with whom you feel comfortable discussing material things and whose opinion you respect as a rav / posek / talmid chacham, etc., then FOR YOU, he represents daas Torah.

You might disagree with statements by others who say things in the name of daas Torah, but you are not subject to following them if you have not submitted yourself to following them.

Seek daas Torah from the person who's right for you. But don't reject the entire concept of seeking daas Torah. What are you, a heretic?

The Half-Heretic said...

Only half. ;)

I was thinking about the person to whom you refer, and may actually mention it to him when I get the chance.

As for the da'as Torah stuff, I realize that, and I don't worry about it. It was an oblique comment. Nothing to worry about. The point was more that, it's become a buzzword for something like, "The spiritually-guided knowledge about... everything... imbued in every Torah scholar, even regarding subjects about which they have no knowledge." It leads to things like, "Should I buy the SUV, or the sedan? Let's ask the Rav." (Who, obviously, picks the SUV, as it will seat more children, kein yirbu.)

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