Tuesday, January 09, 2007

differing philosophies and backgrounds of R' Yochanan and Reish Lakish

Ya’akov in blessing Yosef refers to “Elokim asher halchu avosay lefanav”, G-d before whom my parents walked (48:15). The Midrash offers two analogies to explain this figure of speech of “walking before G-d” – as a shepherd walks before the flock, or like the elders who walk before princes. What is the difference? The shepherd walks before the sheep to guard and protect them from stumbling; the elders walk before the princes out of respect, but it is the princes who guide the way. The philosophical upshot is a debate whether we rely on G-d to infuse us with spiritual direction and keep us from evil, or do we blaze our own trail to G-d and spirituality follows?
The Maggid of Koznitz interestingly finds the roots of these two views in the personal history of the Amoraim who espoused them. In the Midrash, the former position is taken by R’ Yochanan, the latter by Reish Lakish. R’ Yochanan led a life of consistent righteousness; for him the greatest danger was a fall from his pristine state, and he looked outside himself to G-d for help to keep to the proper path. Reish Lakish, however, was a former robber who repented to became one of R’ Yochanan’s greatest students (B.M. 87). It was his own initiative that brought him to repent, and he therefore was more attuned to the ability of man to create his own religious destiny.
Would I be wrong to say that some would expect this type reading of a Midrash by someone under the influence of the haskala, (see here and here for more detailed discussion), but certainly not from the Maggid m'Koznitz!

3 comments:

  1. yehuda4:51 PM

    A pask may be based on the situation the rov finds himself(e.g. how much shas h'dchack there is)In musser many give over their personal derech of avodas hashem and understand things through that prism.However to suggest a halacha machlokes between the Rambam and Meiri is based on the nonjewish religions around them(rather then being a product of their independent yegias h'torah) sounds like haskalah or worse.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The difference between psak and philosophical outlook is arbitrary.

    >>>rather then being a product of their independent yegias h'torah

    No one says that Rishonim made decisions without yegiyas haTorah, but that yegiya occurs in a context of biases that are at the core of one's personality.

    ReplyDelete
  3. >Would I be wrong to say that some would expect this type reading of a Midrash by someone under the influence of the haskala, but certainly not from the Maggid m'Koznitz!

    It is certainly not for nothing that Maskilim cited precedents in traditional sources for every sort of approach they took toward analyzing Jewish texts.

    ReplyDelete