Picture of the author
Picture of the author

Basics of Emunah #31: Is Judaism Rational or Irrational?

Two Roads Diverged in Jewish Thought; Can We Synthesize Them?

Class Summary:

This women's class was presented on Tuesday Parshas Ki Seitzi, 10 Elul, 5779, September 10, 2019 at the Ohr Chaim Shul, Monsey, NY

There is a strange Mishnah concerning a mitzvah in the portion of Ki Seitzei. “Someone who says, ‘Your mercy extends upon a nest of birds,’ is to be silenced… Someone who says Modim Modim twice, “Thank You G-d,” “Thank You G-d,” is to be silenced.”

What is the juxtaposition between the two cases—the person who speaks of G-d’s compassion to the birds, and the person who says “Modim” twice. Why does the Mishnah pair them together in a single sentence and dictates us to silence them both equally? The class presents a fabulous interpretation by Rabbi Yosef Chayim (1835-1909), the Ben Ish Chai, chief Rabbi of Baghdad.

There is another enigmatic Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers: Rebbi would say: Which is the right path for a person to choose for himself? Whatever is beautiful for the one who does it, and is also perceived as beautiful by other people.

Both the question and answer are deeply problematic. How can the Mishnah—the primary body of the Jewish oral transition and law—wonder “what is the right path for a person?” For this, we were given the Torah!

What is more, the Mishnah emphasizes that the person ought to choose the right path. Is this the Jewish approach? Since when did the Mishnah become so liberal as to allow each person to choose his or her path in life?!

Even more strange is the author of this question—none other than Rabbi Judah the Prince, who was the spiritual leader of the Jewish people during his day, and the editor of the Mishnah—the main body of Jewish law and tradition.

His answer seems no less startling. Rebbi suggests to each person to choose a path that he considers beautiful, and that others consider beautiful. Really? What if what I think is beautiful contradicts the Torah? And what if what the street considered glorious undermines the moral system of Judaism?

These questions were raised by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his “fabrengen” on Shabbos Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5748 (May, 1988). I still remember the intensity of the Rebbe’s powerful questions on this Mishnah—seemingly out of sync with what we often think of Judaism.

And then the Rebbe presented one of the most beautiful and inspiring explanations. In my mind’s eye I can still see and hear the Rebbe share these moving insights, which reframed my perspective on Judaism.

Please leave your comment below!

  • M

    Monica -4 years ago

    Rabbi Jacobson,

    Yesterday’s shiur was absolutely exceptional.  Deep, enlightening, real, and above all: TRUTH.

    It resonated with me personally, as with teaching Tamara’s Hamishpacha, there’s always a blend of these paths... the meaningful and obvious advantages and gifts of our “on-off” set-up, along with the “blind faith” of tevilla.

    Thank you for resuming our weekly highlight.  I am just so grateful.

    KSiva vechasima Tova

    B. Friedmann

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    Yosef -4 years ago

    Zera Shimshon#2

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    Yosef -4 years ago

    שילוח הקן

    Dearest Rabbi Jacobson,

    Just this evening I listened to your latest version of Basics of Emunah #31. Is Judaism Rational or Irrational.  I try to learn from the Sefer זרע שמשון every day and tonight he was quoting the same puzzling gemara! Zera Shimshon#1

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • R

    Rachel -4 years ago

    Your class was on a higher level. It reminded me of your fabulous Sunday morning classes you used to give.

    Thank you, such a deep view of what real truth is......amechaye!!!

    The truth of Yidishkeit is beautiful, kind, loving, splendid, compassionate......

    It’s so important to show how Yidishkeit is Divine but so very human.

    Unfortunately we will always use psychology to bring out human compassion, empathy.......but seldom through Yidishkeit.

    We need to change the paradigm of how some people view Yidishkeit as a “religion”......without a heart, etc...

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • S

    Sara -4 years ago

    Such a good shiur. Tears!!

    I told you once, that the day G-d took... away from me, he gave me YY.

    You have made me realize how beautiful Judaism is and the awesomeness of Gd. You answered so many questions today with the shiur. I thank you so much.

    Choosing that path! Because it's truth!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

The Emunah Series/Women's Class Ki Seitzei

Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • September 10, 2019
  • |
  • 10 Elul 5779
  • |

Dedicated by Stanley Fried, in honor of Rabbi and Mrs. Yisroel Schochet, Los Angeles, CA.

Classes in this Series

Please help us continue our work
Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

Join our WhatsApp Community

Join our WhatsApp Community

Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Connect now
Picture of the authorPicture of the author