By Rav Yitzchak
installments in this series can be accessed at:
#38: Rav Hutner: Multiple
Activities in a Unified Vision of Life
of R. Hutner’s sichot relate to the realm of devar reshut, areas
of life neither religiously obligatory nor forbidden. The Torah challenges us
not to view these areas as religiously neutral or indifferent, but rather to
sanctify them. In one section, R. Hutner compares individuals and the national
entity regarding this challenge.
well-known derasha of Rabbenu Nissim claims that Judaism includes two
systems of justice – that of the court and that of the king. The court adheres to the detailed
principles of Halakha because judges represent abstract justice and bring about
divine overflow, even though their rulings may not excel at maintaining an
orderly society. The monarch, on
the other hand, administers extra-legal punishments to help keep the social
order. Thus, a king can solve the
practical difficulties generated by halakhot that make it extremely
difficult to convict a criminal of a capital crime.
Hutner explains that the court represents the area of life rigidly controlled by
mitzvot. The monarch, on the
other hand, reflects the arena of devar reshut, lacking clear religious
guidelines. When Halakha states
that a court appoints a king, it establishes that the two systems
interrelate. Correctly addressing
devar reshut depends on more than human wisdom; Torah ideals guide the
analysis even in areas lacking precise halakhic
equivalent phenomenon occurs in the lives of individuals. Yaakov’s final blessing for Yissachar
compares his son to a donkey who carries his load, but he also speaks of his son
finding pleasantness and tranquility (Bereishit 49:14-15). We do not normally associate bearing a
load with pleasantness. R. Hunter
explains that a person can identify with a task so strongly that the difficult
performance of that task becomes a pleasure. Based on Chazal, R. Hutner
assumes that these verses refer to Yissachar engaging in talmud
Torah. Yissachar appreciates
the joys of Torah study despite its obligatory nature.
explains why Rambam praises the person who studies Torah at night (Hilkhot
Talmud Torah 3:13). Most people
perform their obligations and duties in the daytime and engage in relaxing
leisure at night. Those who study Torah at night have successfully transformed
the duty of Torah study into a joyous endeavor. R. Hutner sees this as devar
mitzva conquering an area of devar reshut. On both national and individual planes,
we strive to use the world of halakhic duties as a guide for the more fluid and
halakhically flexible parts of our lives.
relevant discussion employs a characteristically insightful parable. A student’s letter indicated that he
felt that his secular career meant he was living a double life. Perhaps this
student had recently left the yeshiva for the business world and felt that his
yeshiva side and his professional side lived together in schizophrenic conflict.
R. Hutner asserts that he would never consent to a student leading a double
life, but he denies the assumption that a secular career entails a double life
who rents a room in a hotel and also rents a room in a house while switching off
between the two leads a double life.
However, this is not true of someone who rents a house with many rooms.
In other words, the mere fact that someone engages in multiple activities does
not, in and of itself, indicate a fundamental duality. The varied endeavors can
all take part in a unified vision.
When the different elements cohere within one story, a person lives a
broad life rather than a double life.
Note again how clever usage of a parable elucidates an important
Hutner relates that he once witnessed Dr. Wallach, the German immigrant who
helped start Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital, just before a surgery. The doctor asked a patient for his name
so that he could pray for the patient. “Was he leading a double life?” R. Hutner
rhetorically asks his student. For Dr. Wallach, human effort and medical
initiative do not contradict belief in divine providence and the importance of
prayer. These two very different
endeavors worked together in a common vision.
Hunter finds the same theme in the statement of Chazal that “someone who
extends echad [in Shema] will merit an extended life.” The simple interpretation refers to
extending the daled sound at the end of the first verse of
Shema. For R. Hunter, the
symbolic meaning of an extended “echad” indicates the ability to include
many elements in a single vision of the good. Varied elements are not points
haphazardly scattered about, but rather points on a circle all surrounding an
organizing principle. The same Torah ideals animate our behavior and guide our
decisions in the study hall and in the boardroom.
R. Hutner was certainly not a Modern Orthodox thinker, this idea has remarkable
significance specifically for that community. Modern Orthodoxy teaches that the
ideal religious life need not restrict itself to the study hall and the
synagogue, but also includes a host of intellectual and professional
endeavors. For example, it values
reading Dostoevsky, training to become a social worker, and interacting with the
the same communal positions can be used to justify a more laissez faire approach
to religion with an uncritical engagement with the wider world. From this
perspective, Modern Orthodox Jews need not ask hard question about the
television shows they watch, the books they read, or the type of professions
they enter. In a sense, this causes
a double life in which religious and secular components fail to interact. Thus,
a thinker of more Charedi persuasion articulates a vision of particular
significance to the Modern Orthodox.
similar theme animates an insightful piece in the Pesach volume. R. Hutner asks why R. Akiva states that
all biblical songs are holy, whereas Shir Ha-Shirim is "kodesh
kodashim." He explains that we
encounter two different religious battlefields – the clash between good and evil
and the meeting of the holy and the mundane. The former battle, the attempt to
eradicate evil, has chronological priority. Following that, we move on to the second
battle, in which we attempt to elevate, not eradicate, the mundane. The second stage represents a more
victories over evil forces inspire most biblical songs. The songs after the
Egyptian exodus and those of Devora and King David all belong to the category of
good triumphantly destroying evil. Indeed, a gemara states that King
David only sang after he witnessed the downfall of the wicked (Berakhot
9b). Such songs are holy. Shir Ha-Shirim, however, is an
example of the holy sanctifying the mundane; therefore, R. Akiva terms it the
“Holy of Holies.”
to R. Hutner, the generation of Shlomo excelled at this theme. This was a unique
time of Jewish history, in which secular and political institutions of
government functioned under Torah guidance. Thus, this epoch was the supreme time
for the theme of sanctifying the mundane.
does a person utilize a mundane entity, such as sleep, for a holy purpose? The simplest explanation focuses on
sleep’s ability to replenish energy.
We go to sleep exhausted and devoid of initiative and we awaken full of
enthusiasm for our next religious project. R. Hutner accepts this model but adds
another dimension. We can also think carefully about mundane elements in this
world and utilize them as metaphors for more spiritual aspects. Thus, awakening after a rest serves as a
metaphor for the resurrection at the end of days.
Shir Ha-shirim uses the same model.
The love between a husband and wife is one of the most powerful human
emotions. The wisest of all kings
took this potentially profane image and employed it as a metaphor for the
enduring love between God and the Jewish People, even employing physical
attributes of body parts to stand for the eternal values of Kenesset
Yisrael. The very content of this book reflects the special talent of
Shlomo’s generation to let sanctity conquer the mundane.
with a playful conclusion, R. Hutner notes how the words "mashal"
and "memshala" resemble each other and how the name Shlomo shares the
identical letters with the word "ha-mashal." Shlomo successfully uses parables
to convey religious themes and his very sovereignty serves as a symbol for the
reign of the One above. As our
Sages said, the term “king” in the Song of Songs refers to the King of Kings
the previous lecture, we mentioned R. Hutner’s relationship with R. Kook. Although it is difficult to find clear
influence of R. Kook in R. Hutner’s writings, I believe this is one unambiguous
case. R. Kook writes of Shlomo’s
time as a unique era in which the divine idea and the national idea worked in
tandem. Later Jewish history brought about a split between these two ideals; we
are still trying to repair the rift.
similarity and the differences between the two presentations are quite
telling. Both R. Hutner and R. Kook
view Shlomo’s era as a time when court, king, prophets, and government shared a
common religious vision. R. Kook even cites the same statement of Chazal
that Shir Ha-shirim represents the “Holy of Holies.” Presumably, R.
Hutner derived this idea from R. Kook.
At the same time, he transforms R. Kook’s “national idea” into the
category of devar reshut. R.
Kook saw nationalism as part of the essential Jewish mission and he viewed
Zionism as full of religious value. R. Hutner, a fierce critic of Zionism, did
not grant value to Jewish nationalism per se. In line with other aspects
of his thought, he emphasized sanctifying the mundane
themes relate to another common idea in R. Hutner’s writings. Several sichot in the
Shavuot volume stress a unique aspect of Torah study, that of “bittulo
Reish Lakish derives this principle
from the congratulations that God gives Moshe for breaking the luchot:
“Yeyasher kokhaha she-shibarta” (Menachot 99b). R. Hutner notes that God does not praise
the positive impact of the breaking of the luchot, but the very breaking
itself. This conveys the idea that
interrupting Torah can serve as an enhancement of Torah.
one commandment overrides another, we do not normally view this as a fulfillment
of the commandment we violate. If
tzitzit enables the wearing of shaatnez, wearing such a garment
fulfills the mitzva of tzitzit, not that of shaatnez. However, talmud Torah generates a
different dynamic. As Meiri
explains, we do not exempt someone studying Torah from performing other
mitzvot since one aspect of Torah study is that it should lead to
mitzva performance. Interrupting study to bring joy to a bride and groom
does not diminish Torah study; it adds a crucial dimension to that study. The
very interruption counts as an act of talmud Torah - “bittulo zehu
idea resolves many questions.
Tosafot (Berakhot 11b) ask why we only recite one birkat
ha-Torah daily, whereas we make a new blessing every time we eat something
in the sukka. They explain
that a person never truly interrupts his thinking about Torah. According to R. Hutner, this does not
mean that the person literally thinks about Torah every second. Rather, the other activities properly
performed constitute part of the continuum of talmud Torah.
says that we interrupt Torah study to fulfill a mitzva that no one else
can perform. This principle derives directly from the gemara, but Rambam
adds, “and then he returns to his Torah study” (Hilkhot Talmud Torah
3:4). What explains this addition?
R. Hutner says that interrupting
Torah learning can reflect this additional dimension of Torah study described
above or a lack of commitment to Torah study. The determining test is what happens
after the other endeavor finishes.
A person who returns to Torah study indicates an ongoing continuity of
purpose. On the other hand, someone who does not resume study reveals that his
other mitzva does not integrate into a commitment to deeper forms of
an analogous fashion, R. Hutner explains how the blessing of Ahava Rabba
counts for birkat ha-Torah when a person learns immediately after
finishing prayer. Normally, a berakha focuses exclusively on a single
theme, so how could a berakha with multiple themes count for birkat
ha-Torah? Once we recall that
talmud Torah encompasses other activities within it, it makes sense that
the many themes of a blessing can all relate to Torah study. As mentioned, this continuum is only
generated when a person returns from the other activities to Torah
learning. Therefore, only the
person who studies after prayer can utilize Ahava Rabba for birkat
theme coheres with R. Hutner’s ideas about devar reshut. People legitimately engage in different
activities, but those activities should all reflect a unified vision. We sanctify mundane aspects of life and
our interruptions of Torah study actually further that study.
 Pachad Yitzchak
Shavuot, no. 36.
 Pachad Yitzchak
Iggerot U-Ketavim, pp. 184-185.
 Pachad Yitzchak
Pesach, no. 68.
 Orot (Mosad HaRav
Kook: Jerusalem, 5745), p. 106.
 Cf. R. Shalom Carmy,
“Rav Yitzchak Hutner’s Lecture to a Teacher’s Conference,” Tradition 19:3
(Fall 1983): pp. 219-220.
 In addition to the
references below see Pachad Yitzchak Shavuot, no. 18:3, and Pesach
 Pachad Yitzchak
Shavuot, no. 5.