Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Growing Peppers

Part 1/2 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

by Boruch (See all authors)

A "Step" is a way to get from place A to place B.

To get successfully from place A to place B you need two things, the theoretical knowledge of what it takes to get from one point to another, and the practical recognition of how to apply and use that knowledge. So, for example, you could study driving in theory by reading the best instruction manuals, but until you take driving lessons and get practice in how to apply that knowledge, all the theory will remain useless.

The Ramban in his hakdomo to Bereishis says that all of wisdom in the world can be learned from Torah, and that Shlomo Hamelech was able to plant peppers most successfully by deriving his knowledge directly from Torah. The level of Shlomo Hamelech's knowledge and understanding of Torah was such, that he was able to master both the theory and practice of planting peppers directly from Torah.

Well, how about if I need to grow peppers? I could do one of two things:

1) Try and learn so well that I reach the level of Shlomo Hamelech in Torah so that I too could derive both the theory and practice of planting peppers directly from Torah.

2) Get a book on agriculture, study it, and then go down to a farm and spend time getting experience until I am ready to grow peppers myself.

Which one will I choose? Obviously the second. Does that mean that a book on agriculture and some months on a farm are somehow equivalent to Torah? After learning the book and spending time on the farm, am I on the same level as Shlomo Hamelech? Obviously not. It's just that for me, becoming like Shlomo Hamelech is impossible.

Let us now move to the question of mussar and of "overcoming the Yetzer Hara". Rav Yisroel Salanter wrote in Or Yisroel (Iggeres 19) that Torah is the theoretical knowledge where practical experience is not required, but mussar is the practical knowledge of how to apply Torah to life, and for that, practical experience is a must.

R' Yisroel also writes about mussar there, that different people need different paths, and what works for one won't necessarily work for another. Furthermore, he writes what works for one middah in one person will not necessarily work for another middah in the same person (Iggeres 20). For this reason, R' Yisroel refused to give written mussar advice to one of his talmidim, and insisted that they need to meet one-on-one at length before they can determine the correct course of mussar (Iggeres 19).

Mussar advice requires great experience on the part of the Rebbe, who then uses his own personal experience to work one-on-one with the talmid to develop the correct plan of action.

So following R' Yisroel Salanter's approach, if I needed guidance in parenting, I would not be well-advised to go for advice to someone with no kids, and if I needed mussar in Shalom Bayis, I would not be well-advised to go for advice to a bochur.

That is the problem with addiction. In general, we do not have Rabbeim that have their own practical experience of overcoming addiction, to be able to prescribe the right mussar. Does this imply that the Torah is lacking Chas veshalom? No doubt Shlomo Hamelech could have used his knowledge of the secrets of Torah to have derived the practical knowledge to help addicts, even without first-hand experience. But when an addict came to one of the most practical mussar teachers of our generation, Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l, Rabbi Miller told him that he could not help him and told him to seek professional help instead.