"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How have the mighty fallen?

FNQ Special

In light of recent events (המבין יבין) I wanted to share a few questions and a thought on a statement of our Rabbis. No one is perfect and G-d doesn't expect perfection. What is expected is the pursuit of perfection. Chazal say that if you see a Torah Scholar sin at night don't doubt him in the morning for he has surely done teshuva (Brachot 19a).

  1. Why isn't the onlooker expected to assume that the Scholar didn't sin at all?

  2. How could this sinner be called a Torah Scholar? Is that not a contradiction?

  3. Why do chazal say that the sin was at night and yet only starting in the morning is one not allowed to doubt?

  4. What exactly is it that one isn't supposed to doubt about the Torah Scholar?

  5. Even if the Scholar does Teshuva is it not reasonable to expect that one may have concerns about such a person's spiritual level?

When you see someone sin you can assume that they sinned. Even great and righteous people make mistakes and in some cases succumb to base desires. The obligation to give a Torah Scholar the benefit of the doubt about an action is only when their action is ambiguous. However, when you see someone eat a cheeseburger then you can assume that they transgressed the prohibition of eating milk and meat no matter who they are.
Torah Scholars experience the darkness of night when they are momentarily lost and thus are prone to committing a sin. However, when you see this scholar in the morning and the night has passed you must assume he  repented. This assumption is powerful enough that you should have no doubts that he has reclaimed his previous clarity, holiness and standing in his service of G-d.

I do not know to which sins this concept applies. Presumably there are some limitations. Nevertheless, perhaps the Rabbis' intentionally left this point vague because every generation has its unique challenges; and to these challenges even the righteous are not immune. But the morning will come, even after a long and dark night, and when it does we have to believe that the Torah Scholar did teshuva.

One last question: Are their any sins that if committed one loses their status of a Torah Scholar and thus the assumption of repentance no longer applies?

What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question (and very sad when these are the ones that I find)

1 comment:

  1. I think this was really well written and your questions were really thought provoking. I think the implicit assumption in the Gemara is that a Torah scholar, by definition, has internalized the values and morals promoted by Torah law. If so, then we could assume that even if he sins, he has "come to his senses" by morning. The question I have is do all people today who learn torah at a high level (perhaps one who undoubtedly we'd call a "torah scholar") internalize the Torah's laws and allow them to become part of their very being? Is it possible that with the incredible advance and access of Torah to our community, anyone can become a "torah scholar" by brains and not a "torah scholar" by heart? And the opposite: Can we find people who are not "torah scholars" as we would normally define (perhaps they don't know that memachek is assur on shabbos, but never would they dream of hurting another person, cheating on their spouse, speaking ill of their neighbor. I would venture to say that in our generation, more than ever we can't presume that just because someone knows alot of Torah they are immune to sin, even sins that are heinously (is that a word) against Torah values. I would hope we could assume that, but I just don't think we can. Which is why (as you said, in light of recent events) it is incumbent upon the community to investigate accusations(even possibly preposterous ones) THOROUGHLY before defending or accusing those whom we call Torah scholars. (Binyamin, great audio shiurim... recommended to all).