Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rashb"i and the value of individualism

מעשה בתלמיד אחד של ר"ש בן יוחאי שיצא חוצה לארץ ובא עשיר והיו התלמידים רואין אותו ומקנאין בו והיו מבקשים הן לצאת לחוצה לארץ וידע ר"ש והוציאן לבקעה אחת של פגי מדון ונתפלל ואמר בקעה בקעה מלאי דינרי זהב התחילה מושכת דינרי זהב לפניהן אמר להם אם זהב אתם מבקשים הרי זהב טלו לכם אלא היו יודעין כל מי שהוא נוטל עכשיו חלקו של עוה"ב הוא נוטל שאין מתן שכר התורה אלא לעוה"ב הוי ותשחק ליום אחרון

The Midrash (Shmos, 52:4) tells the story of a student of R' Shimon bar Yochai who left the yeshiva and returned quite wealthy. The other students were jealous and wanted to follow his example. Rashb"i took them out to Meiron (there are different girsa'os as to the place name) and miraculously caused a valley to fill with gold. He told them they could take what they want, but their portion in Gan Eden would be reduced as a result.

One might read this as a going "off the derech" tale -- a guy leaves yeshiva and a few months later is seen driving a Rolls, wearing a Rolex, coming out of a fancy restaurant after eating his filet mignon. But that's not really what this story is about. The student is still referred to as "talmid.. Rashb"i" and the tale centers around his returning to the yeshiva, to his old chevra, not his leaving. Rash"i does not direct his message to the returning talmid, who seems to have been accepted back, but rather to the other students.

R' Eliya Lopian (Lev Eliyahu, P' Pekudei) writes that there was nothing nefarious about the talmid's actions or intentions. Quite the contrary, being a "talmid of Rashb"i" it stands to reason that this ben yeshiva would use his riches for tzedaka, for chessed, to support the yeshiva. This is the guy wearing a suit and black hat you see pictured in the yeshiva's advertisement for its annual dinner, the guy who is alumnus of the decade because he has torah u'gedulah b'makom echad, he can bankroll the yeshiva while being kove'a itim, he enjoys his wealth but still keeps a kesher with his makom Torah.

Don't we all want to be that guy? Shouldn't we want to be that guy?

Rashb"i's answer is that our being that guy, becoming someone we are not, involves a sacrifice that just isn't worth it. The gold that filled the valley of Meiron is the schar we earn from overcoming our individual difficulties and tests. Sure, the rich talmid earns schar for the good works he can sponsor, but those rewards are not a substitute for what we might attain following our own path. There is tremendous schar for learning b'dochak, for histapkus b'mu'at -- there won't be a dinner to honor people who live these ideals day in and day out, they will likely pass under the radar of public attention. Yet, they too have riches. Their valley of gold awaits collection in a better world than ours.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:01 PM