Keeping our Wisdom
Command the Children of Israel to bring clear olive oil, beaten for the
light, so the Menorah can burn continuously. (Shemos 27:20)
I knew someone who met his wife only after 110 shidduchim— 110 shidduchim!
Even though he was happily married, he complained about the amount of times
that he had to date before finally settling down, and attributed it to the
fact that he had probably met his soul mate early on in the process, but out
of doubt, had passed her up. To teach him a lesson, he surmised, God didn’t
bring another one around until 100 shidduchim later!
Maybe yes, and maybe no. One thing is for certain, though, and that is, that
doubt can be very destructive—VERY destructive. It can lead to relationships
that should never have begun, and destroy those that should never have
stopped. It can cause world leaders to trust those who threaten their lives
and those of their countrymen, and not trust those who have their best
interest at heart. In short, doubt is insidiously dangerous for mankind.
In fact, so-much-so, that of all the negative traits that can be associated
with an enemy of God, doubt is the one that is connected to Divine Enemy #1,
Amalek. Even his Name, when the numerical value of each Hebrew
letter—Ayin-Mem-Lamed-Kuf—is added up, totals the Hebrew word for doubt:
At first, doubt, as troubling as it can be at times, doesn’t sound so bad.
This simple example, however, shows why we’re easily fooled by doubt, until
it’s too late to do anything about it, and the full depth of its destructive
power becomes known.
Imagine standing on the corner of a busy street, waiting for the light to
change before crossing, when all of a sudden, a news reporter along with his
film crew approach you.
“Can you answer a question for us while we record?”
Thinking about it for a moment, wondering how bad the situation could
possibly get, you answer, “Sure, I can try.”
“Great,” the reporter says. “We’re part of a survey crew for the Channel 2
News, and we just want to find out how well the man in the street knows his
Recalling that history was one of the subjects to which you barely ever paid
good attention, you shift your position, displaying obvious nervousness.
Picking up on your uneasiness, the reporter says, “We just have one simple
question that you probably know the answer for.”
You smile uncomfortably, doubting the sincerity of the interviewer.
“And, just to make it worth your while,” he adds, “we’re going to give you
and your wife an all-expense paid vacation to a resort of your choice if you
get the answer right.”
How did I get myself into this? you wonder to yourself, as you break out
into a sweat. If you get the right answer, you can finally take your wife on
a long awaited vacation at no cost to you, but if don’t get the answer
right, public humiliation won’t be the worst of it!
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Ah . . . David . . .” you answer, hesitatingly.
“Well, David, for an all expense paid vacation at the resort of your choice,
tell me, what is the name of the thirtieth President of the United States of
“Funny you should ask that question,” you tell him, “because when I was in
college, my roommate used to memorize the names of all the Presidents of the
United States. I used to make fun of him, telling him, ‘Like that’s ever
going to make a difference in your life!’ but he just kept on doing it.”
“That is funny,” the reporter says. “Bet you now wish you memorized those
names right along with him, eh?”
You laugh nervously, wondering if your old roommate is going to watch the
interview later on, yelling out the answer, long after you blew the
opportunity to take your wife on her well-deserved vacation.
“So, David, do you have the answer?” the reporter asks, clearly wanting to
move on already to his next victim.
In a voice that clearly reveals your doubt, you say, “Ah . . . Roosevelt?”
“Wow!” he responds, boosting your hopes momentarily, before crashing them
with the words, “So close . . . but not exactly. The thirtieth President of
the United States of America was Calvin Coolidge. FDR,” he tells you, as you
turn different shades of red, “was the thirty-second President, I believe.”
“Right,” you say somewhat sheepishly.
“Well, thanks for participating in our survey,” he says, getting ready to
move on to the next interviewee, “You have a good day now,” he adds, leaving
you totally humiliated and deflated, and wondering if your entire office
staff was watching. And all you had wanted to do was cross the street and
get some lunch. What a turn of events.
It is amazing how much doubt we live with on a daily basis, and do little
about, not knowing that much of it is like a time bomb waiting to go off at
some inopportune time in the future, like in the following story.
When I was a buchur back in yeshivah, some where a long time ago in a
distant galaxy, I paid the price for some doubt. I had been learning Hilchos
Shabbos in the Mishnah Berurah, and when I got to the section about how to
deal with a fire that, God forbid, breaks out on Shabbos, I decided to skip
it, save it for a future time, and move on to more practical Shabbos
halachos. “The chances that I’ll need to know these laws in the next little
while are slim,” I rationalized.
To make a long story short, though the details are interesting as well, a
fire broke out in our dorm room. Though there were several of us there
watching the conflagration grow and becoming increasingly panicky, as we ran
from room to room, and halachah sefer to halachah sefer, none of us knew
exactly what to do within the confines of Shabbos halachah.
In the end, we put the fire out, reasoning that it could spread and endanger
the lives of others. Though that was true, halachically, there was a simpler
and more permissible solution: pick up the flame, which had been possible at
first, and put it outside and let it go out by itself. Fire is muktzeh,
which is rabbinical prohibition, but extinguishing a flame on Shabbos can be
a Torah prohibition.
The entire experience burned a lesson into my memory. First of all, never
ever assume that the odds of some halachic situation occurring are few, and
therefore, its laws are unimportant. The odds can be 100 billion to one that
it will happen, but when God is the one, the odds might as well be reversed.
He’ll tolerate not learning something for a halachic reason, but not out of
Second of all, I learned how debilitating doubt can be. As the fire burned,
I felt so paralyzed, and angry at myself for being so vulnerable. Since
then, I have made a point, whenever I can, of knowing something about any
situation that might cross my path. Only by ridding ourselves of doubt,
especially philosophical and halachic doubt, can we remain protected against
the wiles of Amalek.
Doubt is to a human mind what germs are to a immune system. While kept in
check, a person can remain healthy and in control. But, should a germ find a
weak spot, it can grow and fester, and, in some cases, even result in death.
Likewise, doubt can eventually result in intellectual and spiritual death,
and has, so many times through history.
This ties in very nicely with the beginning of this week’s parshah, which
begins with the mitzvah of olive oil for the Menorah.
As Rashi explains, the oil, which represents wisdom, that could be used for
the Menorah, also a symbol of wisdom, had to be free of any sediment from
the start. It wasn’t enough that it was clear after filtering; it had to be
clear of all extraneous particles from the time of harvest.
Just as the oil for the Menorah, both symbols of wisdom, must be free of
sediment, likewise must our wisdom be free of sediments, that is, doubt.
Only then can we remain strong against the onslaught of Amalek, true to
Torah, and worthy of our eternal portions in the World-to-Come. Purim Samayach.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.