[Avodah] The Definition of Greatness

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Jan 29 14:05:24 PST 2013

Another thought from Y-mi Yomi... Nedarim 10:8 (vilna 35b):

One of my pet topics is a basic difference I believe exists between the
Semitic and Yefetic perspectives on the world.

    Another difference can be seen by contrasting the style of Aristotle
    with that of Rav Yehudah haNasi. Aristotle catalogues. He divides
    a subject into subtopics, and those subtopics even further, until
    one is down to the individual fact. Greek thought was focused on
    reductionism. To understand a phenomenon, break it down into smaller
    pieces, and try to understand each piece. This is typical of the
    Yefetic perspective....

    As opposed to the way Rav Yehudah haNasi redacted the first
    mishnah. The beginning of the mishnah could have said that the time
    for evening shema is from sunset until 1/3 the night. But instead it
    uses referents involving kehunah, taharah and ashmores. This is not to
    confuse the issue, but because from the Semitic perspective the key to
    understanding one mitzvah is from its connections to everything else.

    Yefes is reductionist, believing the world can be understood as
    the sum of its smallest pieces. Sheim is holistic, looking at the
    interconnections between those pieces, and the pieces only gaining
    meaning from the relationships in which they partake.

Well, the Y-mi concludes that it is possible to give semichah in just one
topic -- "limnos zeqeinim lidvarim yechidim". A rav telling a talmid that
he is capable of pasqening only in a subset of the Torah. But, the talmid
must actually knowledgable in all topics in order to get semichah in one.

    Hara'ui ledavar echad ra'ui lekhol hadevarim.
    Veshe'eino ra'ui lekhol hadevarim,
    afilu ledavar echad eino ra'ui.

One example is R' Yehoshua b Levi's almid who couldn't get semichah in
yavamos because his eyesight wasn't up to being able to see the spittle.
But because the talmid /knew/ all of halakhah, he could get semichah in
everything but.

Another was R' Yosi bei R' Bun, who didn't get semichah in mumin, or in
internal mumin. The Bavli says this is because of a fear that people would
try to copy his accumen, fail, and allow people to eat tereifos. While
the Y-mi doesn't make this explicit, it's another case of having the
accumen in kol haTorah kulah, despite only getting a limited semichah.

I think this reiterates my thesis:

Competence in one area is impossible, because there is no reductionist
approach to understanding the Torah. 

The gemara I quoted must state the conditional
    Whomever is capable in one topic, is capable in every topic.
and its contrapositive
    And whomever is not capable in every topic,
    even in one topic isn't capable.

In Greek bivalent logic,
    if A then B
    if not B then not A
are logically identical. But if one acknowledges shades of grey,
multivalent logics, then they are not.

Halachic logic is multivalent (like Quantum Logic, Fuzzy Logic,
Probabilistic Logic, and numerous other modern systems). One reason
why is because there is no such thing as one fact. Every fact exists
in relation to others. It can't be simply assessed in only one way. The
notion of dialectic, that two things that produce conflict can each be
true in their own way, is built into the Semitic perspective.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             I always give much away,
micha at aishdas.org        and so gather happiness instead of pleasure.
http://www.aishdas.org           -  Rachel Levin Varnhagen
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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