2

In a question I asked (“Health benefits for eating kosher”), I wrote that ibn Ezra said that all the mitzvot have to have a rational explanation for them and if a single commandment went against reason (intelligence) then we should not observe it.

DanF then made a thought-provoking comment.

I rarely challenge someone on this site, but I will challenge you, here, to provide proof that Ibn Ezra said exactly this. Impossible. It has been said that even King Solomon could not understand the reasoning behind the red heffer (parah adumah), yet there are many mitzvot attached to it. The whole nature of a chok is based on a lack of "logical understanding.

So is it true that according to Ibn Ezra we should not follow all the commandments?

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As I mentioned in this answer, Ibn Ezra writes the following in his commentary to Exodus 20:1:

וחלילה חלילה שתהיה מצוה אחת מהן מכחשת שקול הדעת רק אנחנו חייבים לשמור כל אשר צונו השם בין שנגלה לנו הסוד בין שלא נגלה ואם מצאנו אחת מהן מכחשת שקול הדעת אינו נכון שנאמין בו כי הוא כמשמעו רק בספרי חכמינו ז"ל נבקש מה טעמו אם היא על דרך משל ואם לא מצאנו זה כתוב נבקש אנחנו ונחפש בכל יכלתנו אולי נוכל לתקן אותה ואם לא יכלנו נניחה כאשר היא ונודה שלא ידענו מה היה כמו ומלתם את ערלת לבבכם וכי הוא צונו שנרצחנו כאכזרי

And heaven forfend that there should be a commandment, one of them, that contradicts the assessment of intelligence; we just are obligated to keep all that God commanded us, whether the secret has been revealed to us or whether it has not been revealed. And if we find one of them contradicting the assessment of intelligence it is not proper that we believe about it that it is as it sounds. Instead we should search its reason in the books of our Sages of blessed memory, [to see] if it is by way of parable. And if we do not find this written, we [ourselves] should search and seek with all our ability that we may perhaps be able to fix it. And if we are unable, we should leave it as it is and acknowledge that we don't know what it is, like [the commandment of] and you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart — did [God] command us that we should kill ourselves like a cruel [person]?!

Now I don’t think that this means that we only observe rational commandments. In fact, he explicitly says here that we are obligated to keep all the commandments whether or not we understand the secrets behind them. Instead, I think his point is as follows: There are certain things that are so nonsensical that we know that God could not have commanded them. If we see one of these things listed as a commandment in the Torah, we don’t reject the commandment; rather, we reject the straightforward meaning of the commandment and find an alternative meaning which will allow us to observe it. If we can’t come up with any other meaning, we still don’t reject the commandment. We can’t actually observe the commandment because we don’t know what the commandment truly is, but we acknowledge that there is a valid commandment that we just don’t understand. So even though in practice it looks like we’re rejecting the commandment, all we’re actually doing is rejecting one meaning of the commandment, and it’s just unfortunate that our lack of understanding causes us to be unable to fulfill the commandment in the way it was intended.

2

The Ibn Ezra in his Yesod Morah v'sod Torah chapter 8 writes that it is impossible to know all the reasons in one shot and some mitzvos are hidden and concealed and only a few select can know the reasons.

He also explains that if one did not observe the commandments without first knowing the reasoning then that can be compared to a child who will not eat bread until he knows how the bread came to be. If the child would hold of such a stance he would surely die,so to a Jew must follow the commandments even if he has not attained the reason for its performance.

He goes on to explain in the other sections reasons for the mitzvos. It is evident that the Ibn Ezra stance is that every mitzvah has a true reason ,but not everyone can attain its understanding ,and one must follow all mitzvos regardless.

Text of the Yesod:

Treatise 8

ההוגה תמיד בתורת ה' אם יש לו לב היא תורהו ותשכיל נפשו יותר מאשר למדוהו והשכילוהו מלמדיו וזהו (תהילים קי״ט:צ״ט) מכל מלמדי השכלתי. ומה נכבדו דברי הקדמונים שאמרו חייבים הכל לשמור כל המצות וכל התקונים שתקנום האבות ולא יבקש טעם למה צוו אלה המצוות ואמת דברו כי יש מצות רבות נפלאות ונעלמות והנה אם לא ישמרם האדם עד שידע טעמם הנה ישאר בלא תורה ויהיה נמשל לנער שלא ירצה לאכול לחם עד שידע איך בתחלה נחרש ונזרע ונקצר ונזרה והוברר ונטחן ונופה ונילש ונאפה והנה אם עושה כן ימות ברעב. רק הנכון שיאכל תמיד וכאשר יגדל ישאל מעט עד שידע כל השאלות וככה המשכיל יוכל לדעת טעמים רבים בתורה אשר הם מבוארים באר היטב ויש שהם מבוארים לאדם אחד מאלף. ומשה אדוננו ע"ה אמר על כל המצות (דברים ד׳:ו׳) רק עם חכם ונבון הגוי הגדול הזה ואם אין להם טעמים שנוכל לדעת מה טיבם איך יאמרו העמים שהם חקים צדיקים ואנחנו השומרים אותם חכמים ואזכיר קצת הטעמים הנזכרים בתורה

1

This is the introduction of the Ibn Ezra's Commentary of the Torah.

The following is but one quotation from it, and the rest of the Ibn Ezra's writings, that would completely contradict the notion that the Ibn Ezra would subscribe to such an opinion:

עוד, מי ספר לנו כי ימי החדש על שלושים יום ספורים? כי הנה יהודה הפרסי חבר ספר, ובחשבון השמש השנה והחדשים סיפר. גם לא נדע מהתורה עדות החודש, ומי העד אם ילך דרך רב ביום קודש, ואם נקבל עדות אב ובנו, גרים ונשים. ואילו היו כל אלה מפורשים, עוד דבר קשה, איננו מפורש בתורת משה, לדעת כמה חדשי השנה. ואם היא באביב נסמכה, ההוא מחטים או משעורים? ומתי יבוקש, ואנה השיעורים? ואם היתה שנת בצורת בארץ ישראל ומסביב, והנה אין זרע, אף כי אביב, הנקבע השנה פשוטה או מעוברת? גם אין ספירה נספרת, ואין חג שקראנוהו עצרת.

וכל אלה המצוות צריכות לקבלה ומסורת. והאומרים: הנה אנשי המשנה מעידים על ראיית הלבנה, ואם היא התשובה הנכונה, ואם עדותם בעיניהם נאמנה, יקבלו עדות צרכי השנה, כי על פי קריאת בית דין היא נתונה, כי יסוד העיבור - על אביבות התקופה וצרכי הציבור.

ולמה במצוות נגע צרעת מבוארים המשפטים, שהיא מצוה לאדם אחד ולפרקים מעטים, ומצות המועדים, חיוב לכל ישראל בכל זמן, ולמה אין בתורה עליהם עד נאמן, רק נחפש כה וכה רמיזות, בדברי תורה תמימה כזאת?

וזה לנו האות שסמך משה על תורה שבעל פה, שהיא שמחה לעצם וללב מרפא, כי אין הפרש בין שתי התורות, ומידי אבותינו שתיהן לנו מסורות. ופסח חזקיהו יחזיק ידי אמונה, כי נעשה על ידי בעלי עצה וזקנה, ולא הקריב הפסח במועדו, ולאכול חמץ בחדש הראשון שלח ידו, ופסח שני כראשון שבעת ימים עשה, ויש ראיות רבות שקבל מעשיו רם ונשא, כי בית דין היה, ואין ברוחו רמייה."

Summary: There are many things that prove that Moshe Rabainu relied on The Oral Torah e.g. nowhere does it say that months are thirty days (or the specifics on the Testimony of Months i.e. can a father and son testify) or how many months there are in the year, or what about a leap year if there is a famine and no "Month Of the Spring -- Chodesh HaAviv."

Considering that unless we are dealing with an area where we are supposed to use our power of reason (like the machlokes Taima d'Kra), it is axiomatic to the Oral Torah that the commandments are binding despite someone whose power of reason dictates otherwise.

Second point to consider, which is an answer in its own right: The Avi Ezri -- אבי עזרי (a commentary on the אבן אזרא) in the Ibn Ezra's first commentary on Bereishis, quotes many who write that the Ibn Ezra was tampered with. So what you claim the Ibn Ezra might hold for מצוות דאורייתות actually holds for the Ibn Ezra itself i.e. if you think you are reading something "weird" then you either misunderstand it or the Ibn Ezra probably did not say it. This is found in many editions of the Mikraos Gedolos.

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    Please translate or summarize in English. Otherwise this may be deleted as not an answer – Double AA Aug 5 at 13:46
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    Why do you think the ibn Ezra Commentary was tampered? This is an excuse to deny what he really wrote? Nonetheless I liked your answer. Thank you for addressing the question well. – Turk Hill Aug 5 at 16:50
  • The Avi Ezri אבי עזרי, the prime commentator of the אבן עזרה Ibn Ezra, quotes many who write the the Ibn Ezra was tampered with. You can find this quotation in the Avi Ezri to the first Ibn Ezra to the first pasuk of The Torah. The Avi Ezri is available in many common Mikraos Gedolos. – Meuchedet Aug 5 at 18:13
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    calling Avi Ezri the "prime commentator of the Ibn Ezra" is quite the overstatement... Nevertheless, many others have alleged this as well. – רבות מחשבות Aug 5 at 22:44
  • I humbly disagree. The Rama in his Klalei HaPsak in choshen mishpat ascribes weight to poskim whose works have spread throughout Klal Yisroel. I would also apply this to the Avi Ezri, as no other commentators to the Ibn Ezra have spread throughout Klal Yisroel. Although the Ramban and others may comment on the Ibn Ezra's commentaries, they are not singularly and exclusively devoted to explaining his work. Perhaps I could have said "super-commentator" which I think is the technically correct word. – Meuchedet Aug 6 at 11:14
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Challenge accepted. Below is the full passage from Ibn Ezra:

"...The second category (of commandments) are commands which are hidden, and there is not explained why they were commanded. And God forbid, God forbid that there should be any one of these commands which goes against human intelligence. Rather, we are obligated to perform all that God commands, be it revealed to us the underlying "Sode" (principle), be it hidden from us... And if we find any of them which contradict human intelligence, it isn't proper that we should understand it as implied. But we should consult the books of the wise men of blessed memory, to determine if such a command is a metaphor. And if we find nothing written (by them) we (must) search out and seek with all our ability, perhaps we can fix it (determine the command). If we can't, then we abandon that mitzvah as it is, and admit we are ignorant of it". — The Ibn Ezra Biblical Commentary (Exod. 20.1)

What is the meaning behind this verse? What is Ibn Ezra really saying here?

It is wrong to oppose any rabbi’s teaching without fully comprehending the message or at least attempting to understand it. In Talmudic study, one is obligated to analyze a huge range of variety of topics and discuss not the “why” of the matter but the “what.”

That is to say, what opinions did the rabbis hold, not who was right. If one were to profit from their internal motive, his study has become subjective, undermining his true goal in which he will not profit. When his learning is destructive, he will side with a few selected authorities and gain little. His objective reality will be compromised and will lose all insights for further development. It is therefore imperative that we lessen any biased views or preconceived notions. Otherwise, our outlandish seemingly held views will forfeit our chance to gain further insights.

Ibn Ezra’s point is twofold. If we don’t understand the meaning of the commandment but know the formula, we should observe it, not abstain. If however, both the performance and the meaning of the commandment is lost, it would be inconceivable to suggest we obey it. How can man perform something he does not comprehend?

If we do not understand it, we must abandon the mitzvah entirely, but G-d forbid, if we know the meaning “sode” or vice-versa, we are entitled to observe it. Ibn Ezra says we must use our intelligence and discernment regarding these issues. However, he, like Maimonides, was able to find a rational (intelligent) explanation behind every commandment.

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    Who says "נניחנה כאשר היא" means "we abandon it"? It can just as well mean "we leave it alone". If he wanted to say "abandon" there are better words for that, נעזבנה for instance. – Heshy Aug 5 at 13:41
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    The translation of the last sentence doesn't match the translation given here - without it the whole premise of the question falls out – mbloch Aug 5 at 14:11

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