pirkei avot 3:9 - Build a foundation that allows wisdom to endure

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa used to say, "Any man who places fear of sin before wisdom his wisdom endures. Any man who places wisdom before fear of sin his wisdom doesn't endure. 

The word for fear, yirah, has the same three letter root as the word for seeing, rieeya. There is a powerful lesson here for us: namely, that yiras hachait, fear of sin, is directly correlated with seeing Hashem (G-d), a trait which aids in one's Yiras Shamayyim, fear of heaven. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who was the classic example of someone who lived with G-d's presence his entire life, charged people to work on their connections to G-d before building up their intellects. 

One of the central characteristics of a Jew is being simpleminded. This doesn't mean playing the role of village dimwit. Rather, one should work on thinking in an unassuming, matter, taking words and situations at face value. The mindset of a tam (simple minded person) allows one improve his personal relationship with G-d. He's not busying himself with the emotions of self righteousness, stepping into and denigrating the shortcomings of others. Instead, he is wholly focused on acquiring Torah wisdom, and in essence, getting along quite well with everyone else

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, a commentator from 1800's Germany, teaches that one who begins life by accumulating wisdom and erudition before he has built a solid connection with G-d may find himself tripping into problematic thinking patterns. Heresy hides behind the many faces of wisdom an history's got a long line of geniuses and their warehouses of foolish thinking. Somehow, solipsism and the existential question of whether we can trust what we see, hear, touch and smell was an outgrowth of Descartes's declaring, "I think, therefore, I am." Another example: even though Darwin's theory of evolution never revolutionized into anything more than that, a dreamy theory, people still cling to the idea of a universe without an Omnipotence

What these two ideas share is that they, and many more, stem from an irrational desire to disconnect from G-d. If a person begins his lifelong journey with a rationalist's viewpoint he ends up as little more than a stuttering idiot dressed in the clothes of a sophisticate. Truth might look him in the eye and shake his hand yet, as the rationalist, he will still pass away from this world with his eyes rolling around in his head. The building cannot stand straight if the foundation is built on faulty groundwork. Save time, tear it down and start over.

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