Dealing With Contradictions
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #17a: Dealing With Contradictions
By Rav Yitzchak Blau
Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: "Remember this man positively, and Chanania ben Chizkiya is his name. For if not for his efforts the book of Yechezkel would have been hidden away as its words contradict the words of Torah. What did he do? He took up three hundred bottles of oil to his attic and he sat there until he expounded [in a way that resolved the contradictions]." (Shabbat 13b)
Rav Yehuda the son of Rav Shemuel bar Shilat said in the name of Rav: "The sages wanted to hide away the book of Kohelet because its words contradict each other. Why did they not do so? Because it begins with words of Torah and ends with words of Torah"...
And they also wanted to hide away the book of Mishlei because its words contradict each other. Why did they not do so? They said: "Did we not look into the book of Kohelet and find a way to explain it. Here too let us delve into it." (Shabbat 30b)
Let us now turn to the example of Mishlei. The sages did not point to specific outstanding pesukim in this work but rather mentioned the prior successful example of Kohelet. Apparently, their success at resolving the problems of Kohelet filled them with confidence about the ability to do so for Mishlei. I suggest that this serves as a broader model for both our personal thinking about religion and for our educational endeavors. We need not feel the need to resolve each and every challenging religious question. Such a need would lead us to offer poor answers when a humble confession of ignorance would be a far better response. What we do need to accomplish is to explain enough of Torah in a profound and reasonable fashion that a certain presumption of reasonableness spreads to the entirety of Torah. When the bulk of Torah shines forth in all of its splendor, we can learn to live with the sections whose light we find ourselves currently incapable of seeing.