Monday, Jun 24, 2024

The Seichel Deficit

“How can they go public without asking rabbonim?” my friend asked indignantly, the anger recognizable in his voice. It was the vaccine issue that set him off. First a little background. Recently, there have been a number of reported cases of whooping cough in Lakewood, NJ. In fact, two infants were hospitalized in critical condition due to untreated whooping cough. Neither of those infants had been vaccinated against the disease. Doctors have also reported that whooping cough has spread to those who were not vaccinated at an alarmingly quick rate. As a result, Lakewood's famous senior pediatrician, Dr. Reuven Shanik, publically declared that he would not see any patients whose immunization records were not up-to-date.



What does this have to do with my indignant friend?


His ire was raised by a robo-call that he got – one of those ubiquitous, annoying phone messages that bombard us daily. This message offered an interactive conference call with a “top” doctor about the vaccine issue. It turned out that this doctor, who was from a city halfway across America, was a major advocate against vaccinating children. He generally tries to scare parents into thinking that vaccines are responsible for all types of horrible illnesses.


My friend was very upset with the telephone messaging service for not consulting local rabbonim before putting out such a robo-call. As for me, I was astounded that he was so upset. Certainly, I think that the phone service should have used more discretion and should have considered what was ethical as opposed to solely thinking about its profit margin, but I was equally troubled by my friend’s comment and he was just as surprised at my reaction.


“Why,” he exclaimed, “don’t you think it is a good thing to consult rabbonim?”




My answer was an unequivocal, “Yes!” Indeed, one of the most wonderful attributes of this generation is that we turn to talmidei chachomim for guidance, not only regarding issues relevant to learning or halacha, but also with regard to the important life decisions that we make.


“So what’s your issue?” my friend asked.


“Don’t you believe in seichel?” I responded.


Have we so relinquished our own critical thinking skills that we can’t even process information and make our own decisions regarding the welfare of our most precious commodities, our children? Have we become so passive that we can’t even do homework on our own, consult with our own doctor to whom we go for all other ailments, and make an informed decision?


Do we have to further take the time and energy of our already stressed, overextended rabbonim and roshei yeshiva by asking questions whose answers are readily available to anyone with a little seichel who is capable of analyzing and processing information?


“So you don’t think we should ask rabbonim questions about medical issues?” my friend asked.


“No,” I countered. “That is not what I said! The point is a delicate point, but it is a very important point.”


And that is why it is being shared with you, our dear readers.




The vitally important ideal of seeking guidance from our rabbinic leaders, whether it be a rosh yeshiva, chassidishe rebbe, shul rabbi or mentor with whom one is close is not and should not be a crutch and an excuse for intellectual laziness and ineffectual passivity.


We spend so much time talking about how important it is to seek the guidance of those steeped in Torah and ruchniyus, but we perhaps neglect to teach how to ask a shailah, when to ask a shailah,and how to prepare oneself before asking a she’ailas chochom.


No one ever said that it is a mitzvah to relinquish one’s seichel before asking a shailah. In fact, a common refrain in the early teshuvah seforim is that “she’ailas chochom chatzi teshuvah – the question of a wise man contains within it half the answer.” What do our sages who coined that wise phrase mean?


The meaning is that a wise person breaks down a question to its essence. He has already analyzed all of its myriad components. He has weighed the pros and the cons, he has considered the various scenarios, he has done thorough research on the issue at hand, and only then, once he has boiled down his sefeikos – the components that still remain uncertain – does he approach his mentor with the real question at hand. Thus, frequently, by the time the wise man has analyzed it, the question no longer exists. And if it does, it has been broken down in a way that the person whom he is asking will be able to pick up from where the wise petitioner left off.


A rov or rosh yeshiva is not a crutch or a substitute for using one’s own seichel. On the contrary, if one just runs to ask without contemplating the question, analyzing it rigorously, and truly weighing all of the issues, he is liable to ask the wrong question and thus get the wrong answer. A chochom, unless he has ruach hakodesh, can only answer the question that he is asked. If the question is asked incorrectly or foolishly, then the answer one gets might not be the real answer.


Very often, when one truly uses one’s own seichel, so many of the questions that he thought he had turn out to not even be questions. So many apparent uncertainties fall away when one gives real thought to matters and uses the seichel and critical thinking skills with which Hashem endowed him.



A simple example about a shailah that can have life-altering consequences: Let us say that a couple is deciding where to send their son for yeshiva or where to send their daughter for high school.


A fool will make an appointment with a rosh yeshiva, mashgiach or rebbe whom he doesn’t really know, but whom he has heard is a true godol, and ask him, “Where should I send my child?” The godol will be forced to start asking him about his child, depending on how much time he has. The godol doesn’t really know the petitioner, and it is entirely possible that the answer given will be tailor-made for someone else’s child, not for his. The reason? The petitioner used the person he was asking as a crutch, as an excuse to avoid thinking, to avoid the legwork involved in making such an important decision. His intellectual laziness and foolish understanding of how and when one must ask a question have led him astray.


On the other hand, a person with seichel will first do his research into yeshivos and schools, and then break down his choices to the most suitable two or three based on his son’s or daughter’s progress and academic level in conjunction with the family’s hashkofoh, level of observance, etc.


He will consult with the child’s rabbeim and teachers and make sure to understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses, academically, socially, etc. He will then research the proposed yeshivos and schools and further break down the question to determine which ones are his options and the pros and cons of the one or two remaining mosdos after his rigorous analysis. Only then is it time to seek out the guidance of his rosh yeshiva, rov or mentor.


When he comes to present the question to his spiritual guide, he can do so in the clearest, most well-informed manner, and thereby experience the hatoras hasefeikos, the resolution of doubt,that he so wants and needs.




It is high time we learned how to use our rabbonim and sages, not abuse them.


They should be our final resort after boiling a question – if it still remains – down to its essence, not as a first resort and certainly not as a substitute for using our seichel.


P.S. Please, no letters to the editor from well-meaning, misguided individuals, even those who call themselves doctors, telling us how terrible vaccines are. If you want to go back to the age when whole populations were decimated by diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis and scarlet fever, please go live on a desert island, where your unimmunized children won’t endanger the lives of others.




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