Rationalism & Kiddush Hashem

Day 19 – Brachos 20

There is an interesting Gemara that has left me puzzled.

Rav Papa asked Abaye why did miracles happens so often in previous generations and we do not see too many miracles in our generation, which seems more learned in Torah? 

Abaye responded that previous generations were Moser Nefesh Al Kidush Hashem, they were wholly dedicated to the sanctification of God’s name, and our generation is not.

Abaya then proceeds to give an example of an incident of Mesiras Nefesh of the previous generations. 

Rav Adda bar Ahava saw a non-Jewish woman who was wearing a garment made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen [karbalta] in the marketplace. Since he thought that she was Jewish, he stood and ripped it from her. It was then divulged that she was a non-Jew and he was taken to court due to the shame that he caused her, and they assessed the payment for the shame that he caused her at four hundred zuz. Ultimately, Rav Adda said to her: What is your name? She replied: Matun. In a play on words, he said to her: Matun, her name, plus matun, the Aramaic word for two hundred, is worth four hundred zuz.

This incident leaves more questions than answers.

Firstly, how is this related to the concept of Kiddush Hashem? In fact, it seems the opposite is true, it seems like a Chilul Hashem?

Moreover, we have seen throughout our galus, million of Jews go to their death for the sanctification of God’s name. What does it mean that our generation no longer dedicates themselves for Kiddush Hashem?

Rav Kook explains this Gemara at length in Ein Ayeh. He explains that Mesirut Nesfesh al Kiddush Hashem, does not necessarily mean that they died in sanctification of God’s name. Rather, that the previous generations had a higher level of Shleimut, wholesomeness. They understood things beyond what the sechel can grasp, it was almost at a subconscious level, they saw the absolute truth of the matter and immediately acted upon it, before the thought entered the sechel and they started to rationalize their actions. They were able to daven to Hashem without Cheshbonos, just with a form of pure Emes. This is what Abaye called Kiddush Hashem – the ability to think about something through the lens of Emes and the perspective of Hashem, without rationalization. To this tefilla, Hashem can change nature and perform a miracle. 

This was the sort of Mesiras Nefesh which Rav Adda bar Ahava displayed, he saw something and acted immediately, even before he was able to discern if the woman was actually Jewish.

While we are no match for the generation of Abaya and Rava, we can learn from this that once we start rationalizing things, we lose half the truth. Let us approach Torah with Emes and achieve Shlemut and constant closeness to Hashem. 

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