A Letter From Rabbi Chaim Brovender, Rosh Yeshiva
Knowing that each Jew must actively engage his or her understanding of God, and strive to integrate that understanding with daily action, the Rambam provided us with the “great curriculum.” In following that plan, and engaging with halachic study and the havayot deAbaye veRava, we can ensure that our intellectual meanderings do not allow us to stray from the determined.
In so doing we can determine the actions that enable us to live as members of the community of mitzvah-doers.
For Rambam, philosophy, the “jewel in the crown,” must be protected by the halachic process which directs us to live our lives responsive to Divine will. While halacha produces the “grounded Jew,” philosophy enables him to soar. It was partially for this reason that the Rambam composed his Mishneh Torah, the ultimate compendium of Jewish law. In the over 800 years since his death, no one else has attempted as complete a summary of the law — encompassing practical laws as well as those not in practice in our day. For the Rambam this was necessary in order to maintain the proper grounding.
Since the Rambam’s accomplishment, halacha has become the fundamental element in defining the Jewish person. Philosophy is important, for some it is crucial, but obviously not for everyone. Halacha on the other hand, is for “everyman” and every woman.
In the centuries that have passed since the Rambam stated his case the study and determination of halacha has become more difficult, and largely handed over to the hands of experts. If you learned halacha at home or in a Jewish school or even in a yeshiva or seminary you have likely discovered that it is never comprehensive enough. Not only don’t you know the answer, but are often at a loss to even assess the question properly.
What is to be done with the soup ladle on Shabbat? Do you have to give tzedakah from stock dividends? Do you have to look for bugs with a magnifying glass? Such questions remain mysterious for most, and they do not have easy access to the answers. Who to ask? How often should I annoy the rabbi? The latest books seem so technical that I can’t imagine that I could use them.
WebYeshiva has decided to step into this breach and to reemphasize the Rambam’s position: the importance of knowing halacha — how to recognize a question, how to access an answer.
Rabbi Chaim Brovender