The Teiku Within Us

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Although HaShem occasionally reveals Himself in a dramatic fashion, at other times, He is mute and passive.  Gemara Gittin (56b) interprets the word “ba’aillim” in the Pasuk “MI Chamocha Ba’ayllim HaShem” (Shemot 15:11) “Who is like You among the heavenly powers”? as “ba’alim”, reading the pasuk as saying Who Is like You among the “mute”.

This tendency towards silence is also reflected in GD’s attribute of “ERECH  A’PAYIM”, “slowness to anger”. Despite our actions that should provoke Him to an angry response, HaShem is long suffering, with silent acceptance of our faults. Based on the Mitzvah of “VE’HALACHTA BIDRACHAV” [Devarim 28:9], we too must sometimes engage in passive  acceptance.

We must accustom ourselves to the idea that not all questions have answers. This is a general rule in Talmudic study; that the scholar who feels he must resolve all difficulties –is on fact not a scholar at all. The sons of R’Akiva Eiger would say that their father was never pained by a question, nor gladdened by an answer. He was not bothered when confronted by a difficult question, and at the appropriate time did not hesitate to say: “This question requires more thoughts, and may GD enlighten me.”

When a difficult question is raised in the Gemara, the response sometimes is “teiku”, the answer is unknown. Yet, if GD gave us the Torah Sheh-B’alpeh, shouldn’t it encompass all answers? Rav Soloveitchik remembered that his own father asked this question, and he answered that the Gemara’s teiku must reflect the unresolved questions within each individual. If a Jew never has to say teiku, and all his life’s questions are answered, he is nothing more than a tipeish [fool]. At the same time, the ability to say teiku should not change one’s guiding principles or hinder further study.  One must take note of the difficulty and then move on.

Unanswerable or unexplained tragedies have likewise accompanied us in our long history. We regularly recite a bracha upon eating and satisfying our hunger. At that moment, all is well, we are healthy and in possession of our faculties. Here, we can readily sense the presence of the Shechinah. In cruel contrast however, upon the tragic death of a loved one, as we tear our clothing at the moment of our greatest grief, here too, we are asked to recite a bracha.  This expresses our ability to engage in passive acceptance when appropriate.

(Source: Drashot HaRav)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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