Mishpatim: Smart Jews
If a man’s eye is on the Eternal, his intellect will grow.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
There has been much written extolling the intelligence of Jews on one hand, and on the other hand analyzing the historical reasons for such a phenomenon. In his Commentary article “Jewish Genius,” Charles Murray argues that the reason for Jewish intelligence harks back to the very founding of Judaism as a law-intensive community. The requirement to be proficient, educated, literate in a plethora of detailed laws forced Jews as a people to develop levels of intellect unparalleled in the ancient world.
The Sfat Emet in 5635 (1875) mentions that Moses was apprehensive about the Jewish people being able to learn all the details of the Torah. However, at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai the Jewish people exclaim famously, “we will do and we will listen,” classically interpreted as we will accept the commandments and then we will learn the details.
The Sfat Emet says that God vouched for the people of Israel and assured Moses that they would be able to cope with all of the laws. But the Sfat Emet states that there is a catch to this ability to comprehend the laws, and it is intrinsic to the statement of “we will do and we will listen.” In order to understand God’s laws, we must first accept them, before we understand them. We must be willing to undertake this mission, to accept the “yoke of Heaven” before we can hope to comprehend His laws. Only after we have submitted ourselves to God can we understand Him and His detailed Laws. Trying to understand God before accepting Him is unlikely to ever work.
May we be intelligent enough to bring God into our lives and reach greater levels of understanding of the divine.
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