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Curing Insomnia

The Rashba was a scholar of great repute. A prized student of the Ramban and Rabbeinu Yonah and the teacher of the Ritva. He penned numerous works on Gemara and Halacha which are extremely popular until this very day. A great gaon!! No doubt about it.

So how is a Jew able to sleep at night when he sees the following Rashba: In Brachos [15a,d"h v'Rebbi Yossi] the Rashba writes that one "DOES NOT THINK IN ANY LANGUAGE". What??? I think in english [when I am relaxed] and in Amharic [when I get excited] and on occasion in Hungarian or Polish [when I feel like connecting to my roots]. But OF COURSE I think in a language. So do you!! So what does the Rashba mean?

The Roaring Lion [Shaágas Aryeh in simman 7] writes that it simply doesn't make sense. But wait!! We have established the credentials of the Rashba. He wouldn't say something in his Talmudic commentary unless it was compatible with logic. So lets try not to hear the roar and explain the Rashba. But how? Remember, a good explanation will cure the insomnia of many serious Talmudic Jews. So check out the Rashba inside, consult with other Torah Scholars and send in your conclusions.

I think that this Rashba is going to turn into an audio shiur on alleyways. But what should I say in the shiur?

That is the problem.

It is quite evident that infants do some thinking -- perhaps not
at a deep or contemplative level -- before they have mastered much, or even
any language.

Hamelech My Friend!!

The Rashba was not talking about infants.

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I glanced at רשב"א quickly and if I understand him correctly he is explaining that acc. to the מ"ד that it's שמע בכל לשון משמע then perforce it must include להשמיע אל אזנו, because if it were all בהרהור הלב then we wouldn't need the תורה to tell us that it's permissible in all languages - אין לשון שייך להרהור הלב.

I would like to proffer the following, building on HaMelech's point but taking it further. The reason an infant can "meaningfully" interact with the world is because he seems to think on some level. And yet the infant does so without any language. The words "LEGO block" do not pop into the child's mind when he/she sees the block, rather the child recalls the idea of the LEGO block. It has certain properties: it is yellow, has raised circles on top, etc. But it's the idea of the LEGO block that is recalled from memory. The child cannot say that this piece fits on top of that piece but the child remembers the idea of the blocks being able to interconnect when set upon one another in a certain manner.

We adults function much in the same manner. Our recall may be faster and we can memorize more concepts, but that is simply because we categorize in our minds. Instead of thinking "yellow block that fits with other blocks and has raised surfaces" when we see a LEGO, we instead think "LEGO block", and under that heading we have all sorts of information that can be recalled. But if in my language we call it LEGO block and in yours you call it mashed potatoes it's irrelevant: we are both cognizing the same idea of the LEGO block - its properties, its capabilities, etc.

In saying שמע we think of certain ideas: the Oneness of G-d, His personal and ongoing relationship with the Jews, etc. If we are מהרהר the שמע in our לב then we are all thinking of the same idea, because the words associated with the idea are just ways of categorizing the idea, akin to making a shorthand note of a much larger idea. The idea is not dependent on the terminology; rather, the word association is dependent on the idea. If there could objectivity in assessing the most subjective of things, the human heart and mind, then it would apply here: objectively both people are thinking the same thing, they are thinking about the idea.

But when two people are saying two different things, when one is saying LEGO block and the other is saying mashed potatoes, then objectively we must look at the words expressed, and they are not at all confluent. We can't simply jump to the idea behind them.

In other words, the הוה אמינא is that שמע can only be said in לשון הקודש, because when one person is saying שמע and the other is saying potato the objective criterion and the standard by which language is measured is in לשון הקודש. Thus, only שמע passes the test, and potato is thrown out. The תורה then licenses saying שמע in any language because it is not about the objective standard of לשון הקודש, there's a shift to the subjectivity that inheres in each language and then even potato is accepted. But the necessity of allowing for potato is only if one is saying it aloud, because if it's simply a thought in one's heart then the expression does not have to be evaluated on its own merits, it's the idea that counts. It's only when we hear someone saying something that we have a ספק as to what they really mean and we need to be told that there's no objective standard based on לשון הקודש, for in their hearts לשון is irrelevant: it's all about the idea.

Will you are an ilui!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ah. The previous posts have been quite profound - especially for mashed potatoes!

I recommend seeing Maharal Gevuros Hashem (timely) Ch 28.

There he discusses the relationship between thoughts and words. Between chomer and tzurah. Albeit, infants may have some limited chomer, but it lacks the tzurah that is afforded by language - a shared code to communicate concepts. And adults too often have the "tzurah" of running speech and language that is devoid of chomer! Meaningless ramblings!

Higher level thinking - popularly called "higher order cognition", "executive functioning", and "meta-cognition" or "meta-linguistics" - truly represents that ability to think back "in concepts." See the gestalt. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The concept of LEGO is bigger than a four-letter word "L-E-G-O."

When I read the sugya - or the Rashba himself! - am I mearly processing words?

When I listen to my son or my wife... am I doing some complex logorythmic process of piecing the words apart and putting them together?

When I say shma, am I exclusively focused on the contact of my tongue against my palate for the "d" in echad?

Let me posit: I am striving to recreate the chomer of what you had in your mind, what the Rashba was "thinking" and recreate that "picture" in my head. The medium is language, but the end-game is beyond. (A picture IS worth a thousand words.)

Words are finite - truths are infinite. The thought has no physical reality as it cannot be touched, felt or measured. Whereas, the words give physical form as they are formulated, and expressed through physical ink on paper or sound-waves in speech.

(I am a striving eved Hashem, who practices - i.e. trying to get better - at speech-language pathology.)

Regards to all.

Comments welcome.

Thank you R' Uri!! I will definitely look at that Maharal!!

Man, as I am sure you know, is defined by Unkelos as a speaking creature. So to understand our power of speech [which is so badly abused today] is to understand the essence of our being.

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  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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