Monday, March 26, 2012

The Chacham's desire to learn Greek wisdom

Summary: And that is why he wants to learn all Torah -- so that he may then study Greek wisdom. However, the response to this is אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן.

Post: The Chasam Sofer writes, commenting on the Haggadah shel Pesach:

What does the wise son say? {Devarim 6:20}

כ  כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר, לֵאמֹר:  מָה הָעֵדֹת, וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, אֶתְכֶם.20 When thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying: 'What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which the LORD our God hath commanded you?

Thus, the Chacham is requesting that he learn with him the laws of the Torah, in order that after that he shall be exempt {? יפטר -- note this word} and learn Greek wisdom and the other wisdoms. See the commentary of Rashi on the verse of {Devarim 32:47

47. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it."מז. כִּי לֹא דָבָר רֵק הוּא מִכֶּם כִּי הוּא חַיֵּיכֶם וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:


That a person should not say 'I have learn Torah. I shall now learn other realms of wisdom. Rather, {Yehoshua 1:8}

ח  לֹא-יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ, וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ:  כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל.8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

And see in parashat Vaeschanan in the answer to the wise son, and you will see that this answer alludes to  the idea that we should engage in Torah all the days, and not leave off of it {נפטר ממנה} even. And this is the answer of the maggid {of the Haggadah}: אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן, that he should keep the taste of the {korban} Pesach in his mouth always."

 To provide a bit of background, see Menachot daf 99b:
 שאל בן דמה בן אחותו של ר' ישמעאל את ר' ישמעאל כגון אני שלמדתי כל התורה כולה מהו ללמוד חכמת יונית קרא עליו המקרא הזה לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך והגית בו יומם ולילה צא ובדוק שעה שאינה לא מן היום ולא מן הלילה ולמוד בה חכמת יונית ופליגא דר' שמואל בר נחמני דאמר ר' שמואל בר נחמני א"ר יונתן פסוק זה אינו לא חובה ולא מצוה אלא ברכה 
"Ben Dama the nephew of Rabbi Yishmael asked Rabbi Yishmael: Someone like me, who has learned the whole Torah - is it permissible to learn Greek wisdom? He responded: … 'You should meditate on it (Torah) day and night' (Yehoshua 1). Go and see if you can find a time that is neither day nor night, and then learn Greek wisdom! This opinion conflicts with that of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani ... Rabbi Yonatan says: This verse is not an obligation or a commandment, but rather a blessing." 
So we see the idea of being allowed to study Greek wisdom if one has learned the entirety of Torah.

Perhaps we can randomly associate this with something I heard in Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman's shiur the other day: The classic picture of the chacham in many Haggados was actually an image of Herodotus {Update: My error. The chacham Herodotus was actually an earlier depiction, not shown here}:

It makes sense, then, that the chacham would desire to study Greek wisdom. For a discussion of what "Greek wisdom" is, see this post on the Seforim blog.


S. said...

"Perhaps we can randomly associate this with something I heard in Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman's shiur the other day: The classic picture of the chacham in many Haggados was actually an image of Herodotus:"

At the very least, this is not the only scholarly opinion. As I discussed last year (link) many think it is based on Merian's engraving of Hannibal's father making his son swear enmity to Rome.

joshwaxman said...

Hmm... maybe I misremembered from an earlier slide from Dr. Leiman's presentation?

Certainly Dr. Leiman identified each of them as from Merian's engravings, and the other identifications were what I recall him saying.

joshwaxman said...

Now that I think more about it, yes. Herodotus as chacham was an earlier woodcut. This was an engraving, which was later, and was indeed Hannibal's father. My error. Thanks for catching this.

kol tuv,


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