Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Sefer Review: The Lomdus of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Rav Turetsky
"הערות וביאורים במנחת חינוך"
"מלוקט מתורתו של כ"ק אדמו"ר מליובאוויטש זי"ע"
The Lubavitcher Rebbe is widely known as a communal leader and preeminent Torah scholar. While many are familiar with his Parsha and Chassidic insights, he was also a major Talmid Chacham with expertise in Shas and Poskim.[1] A new sefer was recently published in honor of Yat Kislev that may offer us some insight into the nature of his “lomdus” and analytical Torah study.

Minchat Chinuch is one of the most popular Acharonim studied in Yeshivot. Written as a commentary to the Sefer HaChinuch, Minchat Chinuch discusses the 613 mitzvot by summarizing important discussions of the Rishonim, raising innovative questions and answers, and exploring a variety of critical subjects relevant to the Mitzvot. While the Lubavitcher Rebbe never wrote a commentary on the Minchat Chinuch itself, he often related to Minchat Chinuch’s discussions in his discourses. This new Sefer collected the Rebbe’s Torah insights relevant to the Minchat Chinuch and restructured them into a single work.

While I have conducted no extensive research on the topic of his contributions in “Lomdus”, what follows are four impressions from this Sefer and why I believe the Sefer to be a valuable one.

(1) His contributions are not limited to those topics classically studied in Yeshivot. He offers original insights in those sugyot rarely studied in depth. For example, he discusses Peter Chamor (no. 10), the role of the vessels in the Mikdash (no. 23-31)[2], and Tzara’at (no. 37-39). These sections of the sefer are particularly valuable, as much less is published on them.

(2) He relies on a wide range of Torah sources in developing his ideas. He cites an array of Rishonim, Kabbalistic texts, and Acharonim. While he generally focuses on standard sources, with a primary focus on the opinions of Rashi and Rambam, his breadth of knowledge is incredible, in particular since he did so without access to electronic databases. For example, in his discussion of the Torah requirement to stand before one who is of a certain age, Minchat Chinuch (257:9) cites Arizal’s position that one must stand in front of one who is 60 years old. Minchat Chinuch suggests that this is based on the position of Targum, but the Rebbe argues otherwise based on the Arizal’s comments in his Sha’ar HaMitzvot and Sefer Halikkutim.

(3) The Rebbe is known for his unique contributions in understanding Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. Since many of the discussions found in this work emerge from the Rebbe’s Parsha discussions, this Sefer allows one to appreciate this facet of the Rebbe’s Torah scholarship. He reads Rashi very carefully, compares Rashi’s precise wording to those of his original sources in Chazal, and analyzes the various super commentaries on Rashi, all to arrive at new and original insights.[3]

(4) Many of his Torah ideas are original but not distinctive. A good portion of his ideas could have been suggested by other Acharonim, and some can be found in other Seforim.[4] However, he does several things less commonly found in many contemporary Acharonim.

(a) He at times connects a “chakira”[5]  to the Rishonim’s discussion of the reasoning behind Mitzvot    (Ta’amei HaMitzvot). For example, he suggests (no. 35) that Minchat Chinuch’s question whether the prohibition to work the land during the shemitah year prohibits the individual to work the land or requires him to ensure that the land itself rests[6] is dependent on the reasoning behind the Mitzvah found in Moreh Nevuchim (3:39) and Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 89). He makes a similar suggestion in regards to the Minchat Chavitin of the Kohen Gadol (no. 36).

(b) In at least one context, he relates to an additional issue rarely discussed by contemporary Acharonim. While Rambam’s Mishna Torah is often studied in depth and attention is often paid to where he placed particular halachot, there is little systematic discussion of the manner in which Rambam ordered his entire Seforim. The Rebbe (no. 5) has a brilliant discussion in which he compares how Rambam structured Sefer Zmanim to the order of holidays found in Seder Moed.

While not a thorough or comprehensive analysis of this important Sefer, hopefully this review offers some insight into the Rebbe’s status and role as a Talmid Chacham and Lamdan.

[1] His work on Rashi’s commentary on the Torah is most significant.
[2] This refers to the Simanim in the Sefer.
[3] For example, the Rebbe offers a very innovative suggestion of the meaning of the word נבונים based on a comparison of two places in which Rashi interprets the word נבונים (Shemot 31:3 and Devarim 1:13) and the significance of Rashi specifically citing a parable in one context and not the other.
[4] In at least two contexts, he suggests ideas very similar to that of Rav Soloveitchik. See his understanding of the Mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer (no. 49) and Teshuvah (no. 58).
[5] This is a fundamental question about the halachic nature of a concept
[6] See Minchat Chinuch 112:2

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