Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Question & Answer With Rafi G. - Only Gemara B'Iyun

(Picture courtesy of HNN.co.il)

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin once said, "One does not need any mussar sefer except for learning a little bit of Gemara b'iyun (in depth)."

What is your reaction to this statement? Could you imagine a person only learning Gemara b'iyun as his only form of mussar?

Rafi G. of Life In Israel responds:

There are two aspects, that I see, in understanding the statement from Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin.

One would be that the Gemara has so much mussar already contained within it, there is no need to learn mussar from other seforim. If one were to learn Gemara b'iyun he would glean the mussar from the Gemara itself.

The second way to understand it would be that if one were to learn Gemara b'iyun he would taste the beauty of the Torah and that would be the greatest mussar lessons possible - better and deeper mussar than the mussar of any other mussar sefer. After learning the sugya and connecting with Hashem directly through the Torah, how could one then go and not act properly? Would one really need to learn mussar after he has really tasted the connection to kedusha?

It seems to me that maybe that second statement, which is what I think Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin really meant, is appropriate for a previous generation and not for us. While there is plenty of mussar in the Gemara, and there are people who might be able to learn at that level and actually reach that level of understanding and kedusha, most of us cannot. One would have to really be learning l'shem shamayim with complete sincerity and purity to be able to relate to the Torah at that level.

I know I am not there. I am sure there are some people that are there. I think most of us are not ready for that and we need to learn the mussar seforim in addition to the Gemara b'iyun.


At February 12, 2008 at 12:14:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to come across as disrespectful. I am very familiar with this Torah from R' Shlomo as he is one of our Rebbes (he was the Rebbe of R' Asher Stoliner and R' Mordechai Lechovitcher, both of whom were grandparents of the first Koidenover Rebbe) and have said it over in public on a number of occasions. And, although I do not claim to be an expert by any means, I am familiar with the context.

In my humble opinion, I believe the quote from R' Shlomo Karliner was taken out of context and therefore the whole question and answer, while correct, are not necessarily relevant to the quote. Here is what I mean. First of all, I don't think he literally means one should learn Gemara all day and never learn musar. And although the answers given a) the Gemara itself
contains mussar and b) the deveikus and kedusha one gets from learning would lead one to Hashem's ratzon and not sin do make sense, let us look at the context of this statment in Beis Aharon.

The Beis Aharon, R' Aharon II of Karlin, the son of R Asher Stoliner who was R Shlomo Karliner's talmid, quotes the aformentioned statement from R' Shlomo and then goes on to explain the reason, "Hashem created man straight (yashar), therefore a person should only want to do what is shayach to Hashem. However, because of the yetzer hara and the foolishness that a person does, a person becomes perverted and does not want to follow the straight path . . . but when we learn Gemara b'iyun we take ourselves to the sechel hayashar, for this is in truth the sechel hayashar (the Gemara), and through this we become yashar and when we become yashar we no longer desire but what Hashem wants." [Please look inside Shabbos Shuvah, page 271 as this is not necessarily a professional translation].

Put in this context, we have a different understanding of what he meant. Does this mean we shouldn't learn mussar? Not necessarily. R' Shlomo is just saying that Gemara b'iyun is the best because it straightens out our sechel so that we will once again naturally do what Hashem wants.

At February 12, 2008 at 1:38:00 PM EST, Blogger Chaim B. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At February 12, 2008 at 11:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post! I think that Rafi's second statement is pretty deep. In an ideal world, Mishna and Gemara would be all that we need.

As we, from a generational point, move further away from Kabbalas HaTorah, we need other ways to connect and transmit to, as Rafi put it to "Hashem directly through the Torah". One can easily say that looking at Nach for mussar or even Chumash might be more of direct source of mussar.

How many people would have thought 15-20 years ago that people would be connecting to Torah via the internet?

At February 13, 2008 at 2:23:00 AM EST, Blogger Rafi G. said...

Rabbi Slatkin - you explained it much better than I did. Shkoyach!

Neil - I am not so sure deriving it from the chumash and navi is even more direct. Torah She Baal Peh was given at the same tim as she b'chtav. So the gemara is really on equal footing, I think, with the chumash, in that regard..

At February 13, 2008 at 10:08:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

perhaps simply the bitul involved in putting the knowledge contained in the Gemara before one's own intellect is in itself all the mussar one needs.. i think this might just be restating both RafiG's point and R' Slatkin's in different words.

At February 13, 2008 at 2:32:00 PM EST, Blogger Professor Trek said...

Here's a quote from the book Orech Apayim I read recently:

"It is true that there were many religious people who merited to repair their middos, and rise to great heights, even without these techniques, only through the study of torah and fixed prayers. And it is written so in the book "Keneses Yisrael" from the holy Rabbi Yisrael from Meruzin. However this is so only for those who have pure souls from birth due to the holiness of their fathers and the holiness of their souls. And they were not dirtied through the sins of youth. Or it was due to the help of some great tzadik who washed the stains of their sins, and shined in them through his great and holy level. But without this, it is a difficult and far away matter, as experience will testify that a person will be capable of fixing his middos without great study of mussar , contemplation, and introspection every day as we've explained above."
translation from:


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