Your Analogies Are Like Wind

When you’re pondering a subject and considering its properties, there’s a very subtle perceptual difference between intrinsic properties and extrinsic properties. Often, either in an attempt to quickly reach a preconceived metaphor (such as a cryptic statement of Chazal) or because of an impatient impulse to be philosophical, we conclude something that is merely extrinsic. This can be incredibly dangerous to our understanding of the subject matter.

An example: You’re sitting in the beis, struggling to understand a sugya, staring into your heavily sweetened latte. Your mind, desperately seeking solace, begins to wander: “What makes hot, foamy milk so great? Am I enjoying this cholov stam because I’m evil? Where in Torah can I find this?” At this point, you find a reference that cites a Gemara in Ta’anis. The Gemara says, “Why is Torah compared to water, milk, and wine?… Just as these 3 spoil if left unused, so too Torah is forgotten because of distraction.” Eureka! You now have an entire dvar Torah for the table about how important it is to do chazarah, and all because you drank milk. You might even say that Sisrah was punished through milk because he didn’t do chazarah. Geshmak!

And yet, you have not determined anything inherently meaningful about milk, because you haven’t done what Chazal wanted you to do: think. What is the difference between these 3 liquids, and why are these 3 liquids being selected over other perishables? How does this analogy complement the other appearances of milk in Tanach, halacha, aggad’ta, etc? Until you have a whole conception of milk in your mind, you will not be able to fully appreciate what Chazal are conveying to you. If you can’t organize the given information, you certainly won’t have the whole picture. Every statement you make about reality is a theological assertion; you wouldn’t want that to be false, would you?

The trouble here is really in how we treat metaphor. We assume that metaphor is a mediocre attempt to grasp the metaphysical. When our ancient teachers use it, we presume they must be doing just that. However, in reality, the metaphor is not only meant to describe a metaphysical counterpart; it actually defines the physical subject by aligning it with its source definition. (Your question starting out should be “Why does this exist?”) This alignment is refined with greater depth, broader connections, and more knowledge of the subject. One who sees the world in this way will achieve astronomical ontological ascent. If you want to truly know something, get to its core.

The Guilt of Deceit

Parshas Vayeitzei: The Stone On The Well