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The Bracha Chonen Hada'at seems to have an apparent contradiction regarding "binah".

The beginning of the blessing separates "da'at" from "binah" by implying that "G-d gives man graciously da'at and teaches a man 'binah'"

My rav explained this distinction. "Da'at" - wisdom is a gift that G-d gives us. But 'binah' is the ability to distinguish things such as good vs. bad / right vs. wrong. That must be learned and G-d helps man learn this.

OK - I understand this explanation. However, at the end of the bracha, we ask G-d to "Give us graciously ...'binah'". So it seems that we are asking G-d to give us 'binah' as a gift, not to teach it to us.

Is this contradictory, or what is the meaning implied by the request at the end of the bracha?

NOTE: The link uses Nusach Ashkenaz. The phrasing in Nusach Sfard is different, but still implies the same idea.

  • Is accepting your Rav's distinction a requirement of an answer? – Y     e     z Aug 20 '14 at 1:06
  • @YEZ - Of course not :-) I mentioned his explanation to add some interest and avoid duplicate answers. The rav merely explained what "bina" means, but he didn't answer my Q. Perhaps, his explanation may become part of the answer as well. – DanF Aug 20 '14 at 2:11
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In the Siddur Shai LaMora he explains that Bina is earned through toil (as your rav explained) and then goes on to say that in the second half we are asking that despite the fact that it requires this work and effort, we are still asking for it to be given for free (as in Rashi's explination of VesChanan).

So we introduce it - you give Da'at and give us the ability to toil to earn Bina. Please give us both for free.

Perhaps we can understand this according to a story between the Tzemach Tzedek and the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch. At one point, the Alter Rebbe offered the Tzemach Tzedek to give him a blessing for great insight into Torah, and the Tzemach Tzedek demurred, saying he wanted to earn the Torah through his own efforts.

When he was older, the Tzemach Tzedek said he regretted that decision, since in Torah there are always higher levels to earn, and he could have been so much further.

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From Rabbi Efraim Levine:

In the fourth blessing of the shemona esrei prayer we recite “You graciously endow Adam with da’as and teach Enosh, binah.” In this phrase we encounter two different titles for man and two different terms for wisdom. The commentators explain the word Adam relative to Enosh connotes a positive reference to man whereas Enosh connotes the weakness, frailty and mortality of man.


R' Levine goes on to explain that Adam can only be singular, which connotes a solitary presence, whereas Enosh has a plural version, Anoshim . This teaches us that Enosh refers to humans that are willing to work with each other. Kain and Hevel weren't willing to work together (or at least Kain wasn't). When Seth had a son, he named him Enosh, to signify people working together from then on.

We may return to our question as to why we match the term binah with Enosh. The commentators explain the da’as represents the basic building blocks of wisdom. Binah represents a deeper form of understanding. Binah requires one to combine multiple pieces of information and compare them one to another.

R' Levine also points out that binah is mentioned in Avot 6:6, that we gain binah through pilpul hatalmidim; students discussing law with each other, each sharpening the others' binah, or understanding.

We now see that, "melamed l'enosh binah" can be understood to mean that G-d 'taught', i.e. created within the quality of Enosh, the potential to have 'binah', i.e. pilpul, working with others, making each other better.

Therefore, there is no contradiction. G-d created Enosh to have binah and work with others, but binah is still a pure gift, just like everything else that G-d gives us.

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The Sefer HaIkarim 1:15 and the Avnei Eliyahu from the Gra"h on the siddur explain that "da'as" is the "מושכלות הראשונות" - the simple matters, the initial innate knowledge that a person has. This knowledge, which is similar to instinct, is given to man.

Binah, on the other hand, is when someone extrapolates from that primal body of information and forms new understandings.

The Sefer HaIkarim explains that thus da'as is paired with Adam, man, as it is the lowest common denominator and everyone has and uses it. Binah, however, is a higher level, and requires "natural" learning, i.e. personal effort to understand, which only Enosh reaches (Maharal Derech Chaim 3:17 demonstrates this implication of Enosh from Tehillim 55:14 - ואתה אנוש כערכי). Therefore, binah goes a step further and requires "teaching" and "learning."

(Up until here primarily from the Sefer HaIkarim)

However, binah (and all Torah knowledge) still requires a gift from Hashem. The requisite "learning" is on top of that which it must be given by Hashem. Torah knowledge is not naturally learned - it is Divine knowledge, which must be given by Hashem. R Weinberg demonstrated this from the famous statement of Chazal (Eicha Rabba 2:13) - חכמה באומות תאמין תורה באומות אל תאמין - "If you are told that there is wisdom in the Nations, believe it, but Torah in the Nations, do not believe it" - Torah is different than "wisdom" and is not just another body of information. Similarly, the Alei Shur points out that the Gemara in Megillah 6b says "יגעתי ומצאתי תאמין" - "If someone says they put in effort and found, believe them" - even once you put in your effort, Torah knowledge is still "found" - it is something that, in a certain sense, you stumble upon, because its attainment is not the natural result of your efforts.

In summary, "binah" necessitates the higher level of "melamed," but that is in addition to the baseline requirement of "chonein," which all knowledge requires.

  • (when you cite the גר"א in English, it's probably more accurate to put the A on the other side of the quotation mark, IMHO) – Shokhet Aug 27 '14 at 19:24
  • @Shokhet True, but I'm used to doing it that way because that's how I have it set up in my Word auto-correct options. Feel free to edit it to your liking. – Y     e     z Aug 28 '14 at 3:12

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