ט״ז באלול ה׳תשע״ב (September 3, 2012)

Berakhot 33a-b: In Praise of Knowledge

One of the additional prayers that is added to the Amidah is havdalah – the separation service – that is inserted into the first of the weekday blessings at the close of Shabbat and holidays. Having mentioned that blessing, which relates to wisdom, the Gemara quotes Rav Ami as teaching:

Great is knowledge that was placed at the beginning of the weekday blessings.

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This teaching leads to a longer discussion of the importance of wisdom.

And Rav Ami said in praise of knowledge: Great is knowledge that was placed between two letters, two names of God, as it is stated: “For God of knowledge is the Lord” (I Shmuel 2:3). And since knowledge is regarded so highly, anyone without knowledge, it is forbidden to have compassion upon him, as it is stated: “For they are a people of no wisdom, so their Creator will have no compassion upon them and their Creator will not be gracious unto them” (Yeshayahu 27:11). If God shows no mercy for those who lack wisdom, all the more so should people refrain from doing so.

The Maharsha explains that in this context, knowledge does not refer specifically to intellectual capability, but rather to one’s fundamental ability to conduct oneself and live in accordance with that capability. That is why the Gemara relates so harshly to one without knowledge, as by failing to realize his potential, he negates his own essence. Every creature that maintains his fundamental essence deserves compassion; one without knowledge negates the very justification of his existence.

Similarly, Rabbi Elazar said:

Great is the Holy Temple, as it too was placed between two letters, two names of God, as it is stated: “The place in which to dwell which You have made, Lord, the Temple, Lord, which Your hands have prepared” (Shmot 15:17).

Noting the parallel between these two ideas, Rabbi Elazar added and said: Anyone with knowledge, it is as if the Holy Temple was built in his days; knowledge was placed between two letters and the Temple was placed between two letters, signifying that they stand together.

In his Torat HaOlah, the Rema explains that already established that one who engages in the study of the laws of the burnt-offering it is as if he sacrificed a burnt-offering. Therefore, anyone with knowledge can achieve ultimate closeness to God, which is the purpose of the Temple and the service performed therein. Consequently, it is as if the Temple was built in his days.

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