Choosing Between Conformity and Truth

Question:

I don't remember exactly the source, but I learned that when one is learning Torah, he should begin learning like an apiqoros and question everything he learns. I was almost positive this was from the forward to the Mishne Torah, but I was mistaken...


Answer:

1. It was during my first year of y’shiva study in Israel that I first heard this thought expressed. My R’am said: “When you learn G’mara you should learn like an apiqoros. If Abaye says something, you have to ask how he knows it, what’s it based on. Don’t just accept without thinking.”


2. I do not know of a source for this statement, but it is good advice. It is not condoning apiqorsuth. The purpose of such a statement is to encourage a person to think and question, and not to stop asking until an answer is forthcoming.


3. By "answer" I mean a real answer: one that is serious and not an insult to one’s intelligence. Don’t be put off by people who prefer not to think; if necessary, find another teacher or hevrutha.


4. You probably thought that this statement originated with Rambam z’l because this was Rambam’s approach: to have the highest respect for the human mind and intellect, which according to Rambam (More HaN’vukhim 1:1) is the Sselem Elohim in us.


5. When one fully appreciates this, one is truly free to think and understand, and to act on that understanding – even if others hold otherwise.


6. There are two kinds of people: a) those who place conformity above all else, wanting to be able to live with others, and b) those who place truth and mind above all else, wanting to be able to live with themselves. The former are the overwhelming majority of humanity; the latter are few and far between.


2 Tevet 5771 Thursday, 9 December 2010

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