Monday, May 29, 2017

toras chessed

We are approaching the completion of our counting of the omer, the preparation for mattan Torah, during which time we have been mourning the death of Rabbi Avika's students.  The gemara (Sota 21) tells us that the study of Torah is greater than all other mitzvos in that a mitzvah protects one from sin and harm only when one is performing the mitzvah, but Torah affords 24x7 protection at all times, even when one is not actively engaged in learning.  Why then were these great talmidei chachamim, students of R' Akiva, not saved from death in the merit of their Torah study?  Why is it that they died davka during this period of anticipating and preparing for mattan Torah? 

Chazal tell us that R' Akiva's students died because they failed to honor and respect each other -- it was a flaw in their bein adam l'chaveiro, in their midos.  R' Shternbruch explains that Torah without bein adam l'chaveiro -- Torah without midos -- is not Torah.  Therefore, their learning did not protect them. 

You cannot celebrate a mattan Torah of laws bein adam la'Makom and ignore the bein adam l'chaveiro.  Right after speaking about the holiday in Parshas Emor, the Torah reminds us (23:22) that there is a mitzvah to leave pe'ah and leket for the poor.  Why stick that in here?  Meshech Chochma explains very beautifully that the Torah is hinting to us that when we celebrate Shavuos, we have to recognize that caring for the poor, social law, bein adam l'chaeivo law, is also part of mattan Torah.  When we stood at Sinai it was not just to receive a bunch of rituals.  (A quibble: the Torah there does not speak about Shavuos as the time of mattan Torah?)  It was to receive these laws as well.

The Beis Yisrael of Gur sees this lesson in Parshas BaMidbar, which is almost always read before Shavuos.  "V'eileh toldos Aharon u'Moshe b'yom dibeir Hashem es Moshe b'har Sinai."  The Torah tells us that it is going to list the toldos of Aharon and Moshe and then it then just lists Aharon's children.  So why mention Moshe?  Explains Rashi, one who teaches his friend's children Torah is credited as if he gave birth to them.  Because Moshe taught Aharon's children Torah, he counts as their father as well.  What Moshe got "b'yom dibeir Hashem es Moshe b'har Sinai," through mattan Torah -- or what Moshe needed to properly experience mattan Torah --- was this sense of responsibility for "chaveiro," for his friend, his neighbor, for their childrenThis is the "v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha" which R' Akiva called the "klal gadol baTorah" in action.  (And since these children count as his tolados, it also fulfills Ben Azai's dictum of "zeh sefer toldos ha'adam as the cardinal principle!) 

The Midrash writes that Rus does not teach us halacha; it teaches us chessed.  Chessed, caring for others, is not an additional theme tacked on to the Yom Tov of kabbalas haTorah, but rather is integral to what kabbalas haTorah is all about.

On a completely different note, I saw a pshat from the Divrei Shaul quoted in Ta'amei haMinhagim that, unless I'm mistaken, seems to refer to the myth of the sirens that appears in Homer's Odyssey and elsewhere.  He explains why mattan Torah was accompanied by thunder and lightening by quoting from the Ya'avetz's siddur that there are creatures that emerge from the sea and sing with such beautiful voices that people literally die from the pleasure of their song.  Kal v'chomer: if people die from the hearing the beautiful song of these sea men, imagine the effect the beautiful song of dvar Hashem would have!  (My wife's comment: but the gemara in fact says that people did die when they heard the dibros and Hashem had to revive them).  Therefore, Hashem used cacophonous thunder and lightening to minimize the effect of the beauty of the sound of the dibros. 

It's not an exact parallel: the sirens lure sailors to their death using song; here, the song itself kills people.  But it's close enough to make me wonder if it is one and the same myth.  Maybe it's sacrilegious to think that, I don't know.  I would like another source for this Ya'avetz if there is one, but don't have time to dig into it.


  1. for long days have you left here leket, gleanings from your reading in toto, such that we poor among your attendees can attest: a kiyum ha'mitzvah big time!

    {is Sanhedrin 19b really the pshat for Bamidbar 3:1-3? that Moshe "taught" Aharon's sons? or rather, does 3:2 (with the biological marker, bechor) apply to Aharon, and 3:3 apply to Moshe insofar as he, Moshe, literally filled the hands (mi'lei yadam) of the sons to minister, at Vayikra 8:27*?

    *in this same vein, maybe one could point to Aharon in Vayikra 8:31 (assuming he handed meat and bread to his sons [to minister?]), or to Aharon on day 8 filling vessels in his sons hands with blood, at Vayikra 9:8, 9:12 etc., and so assign him 3:3 also, again leaving Moshe to be understood as "teacher" (and hence "father")...}

  2. What is the סרנית mentioned in Toras Kohanim (Shemini 3:7)?

  3. I made a stronger claim based on parashas Emor. Notice also the description of how to inform a prospective geir what qabbalas ol mitzvos entails, Yevamos 47a:

    ומודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות, ומודיעין אותו עון לקט שכחה ופאה ומעשר עני. ומודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות, … וכשם שמודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות, כך מודיעין אותו מתן שכרן… לא רוב טובה ולא רוב פורענות. ואין מרבין עליו, ואין מדקדקין עליו

    Notice the guidelines are relatively vague -- some minor mitzvos, some major ones, something about reward and punishment, don't paint it unrealistically good, nor overdue the hardship... But 4 specific mitzvos do get listed -- לקט שכחה ופאה ומעשר עני.

    Add to that the centrality of 3 of the 4 in describing Shavuos in parashas Emor, a fact that apparently went into the decision to read Megillas Rus on Shavuos.

    My conclusion was that historically, leqet, shichekha and pei'ah were considered the sine qua nun of being an observant Jew, the way today it is common to speak of Shabbos, kashrus, and th"m.

    (And the shift, like the shift from speaking in praise of the "ehrlicher Yid" to discussing who is "frum", says much about how our priorities aren't entirely in sync with Torah ones.)

  4. the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva can plea, 'we were attuned to Torah at very near "song" level, hearing almost the original "beauty", but the "cacophonous thunder" we also heard during learning roughed our edges, and accounted for our mutual disrespect! so then why should we've been chayav??'

    possible answer: none of these talmidei chachamim recited the bracha on thunder [she'ko'cho u'g'vuraso malei olam] during his learning!
    ...but the students retort: nonsense! rather, none of our ancestors/surrogates at har Sinai recited that bracha [nor perhaps the bracha for learning Torah, just prior to the "beautiful song"], such that even in the time of our eminent teacher Rabbi Akiva, the effect of that omission still traveled our highly receptive souls, causing interpersonal cacophony (unchecked thunder) among us... ...teiku(?)