Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5, Mishna 20

Endless Arguments

Chapter 5, Mishna 20
“Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute not for the sake of Heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his assembly.”

This week’s mishna in a way parallels the previous. Whereas Mishna 19 contrasted true love with its empty imitation, this mishna compares “good” arguments — for the sake of Heaven — with petty, childish ones.

Before we look more closely at our mishna, we note right away that arguments per se are not “wrong” or groundless. There is nothing wrong with having disagreements with another human being — and airing them. People will always have differences; there will always be what to argue about. Yet their debates can be for the sake of Heaven: they can evidence G-d’s Presence in this world rather than drive it away. As I am fond of pointing out — from the vantage point of well over twenty years of marriage — that you can disagree with another human being about all sorts of basic and important life issues — but it doesn’t mean you don’t love the person. Often, the frank and respectful exchanging of views and differences is an important part of building and maintaining healthy relationships — far more so than clamming up for the sake of an illusory harmony.

Our mishna chose Korach as the prime example of a debater not for Heaven’s sake. We read in Numbers 16 of Korach’s rebellion against Moses. His party platform was very noble: Why did Moses choose his brother Aaron as High Priest — seemingly consolidating all the power within his own family? “The entire congregation is holy and in their midst is the L-rd. Why do you lord over the congregation of G-d?” (v. 3). Very inspiring words. Korach is clearly a man of the people who cares for the interests of others. He also proved an effective campaigner, rallying the people behind his noble cause.

The Sages tell us his true motive. Moses had earlier appointed (on G-d’s instruction) Korach’s cousin, Elitsafan ben Uziel, as head of Korach’s extended family (the family descended from Kehas, second son of Levi). He was jealous, plain and simple, that he did not get the job himself. Yet all of a sudden he becomes grand proponent of democracy and equal rights — and he champions the battle for his noble cause. (So noble you could puke.) Korach (as well as his cohorts) wanted a piece of the pie themselves. But when they didn’t get it, all of a sudden they become big champions of the cause of the common man: why should *anyone* have power? The whole nation is holy, and just as a room full of sacred books should not require a mezuzah on the doorpost, neither should a nation of saints have Moses and Aaron lording over them.

And, of course, when this grand wave of liberty sweeps through the nation, freeing them from the tyranny of Moses’s iron fist, to whom will the power revert other than that grand spokesman and advocate of democracy himself — Korach? Selfish, shallow, devious, and hypocritical — an intelligent observer could read him like a book. And you know something? It almost worked.

There is a small crevice in the heart of man which just does not want to be ruled — not by Moses, not by Aaron, and not by G-d. Korach, in his selfish bid for power, tapped that nerve. It required Divine revelation and retribution to quash his rebellion.

For debaters for the sake of Heaven our mishna turns to the beloved sages of the Mishna — Hillel and Shammai. They (and especially their students) debated many issues throughout the Mishna, and in many ways their approaches to life fundamentally differed (see Talmud Shabbos 31a). Yet they debated for the sake of Heaven. Both parties had the same goal — understanding and following G-d’s will. They saw each other not as antagonists but as partners in this lofty mission. Their disagreements forced each of them to clarify and defend his own position. They thus complemented rather than contrasted one another.

Their mutual love and respect was reflected in their behavior towards one another as well. Were they argumentative, vindictive, or out to get each other? We all know that once someone gets on your bad side, you find everything about him annoying — his opinions, habits, manners, the way he parts his hair. He can do no right. If he likes vanilla you like chocolate (in fact you *hate* vanilla). The Talmud is filled with debates between scholars who seemed hopelessly incapable of ever agreeing with one another, and who often fiercely argued their positions. Vigorous, give-and-take debates are as well the standard fare of the yeshivas (rabbinical colleges) of today. Yet we find none of the acrimony or animosity between these scholars that we might almost expect to find.

Regarding the schools of Hillel and Shammai, the Mishna writes that even though they had many basic disagreements regarding marriage and forms of ritual uncleanliness (affecting food and utensils), they both intermarried and borrowed utensils from one another (Yevamos 1:4). Each party would congenially and respectfully inform the other, “This is forbidden according to you.” They respected the others’ right to disagree, harboring no illusions that they possessed the only valid approach to understanding G-d’s Torah.

Rabbi Yochanan was one of the foremost sages of the Talmud. His study partner and almost incessant critic was Reish Lakish. One can scarcely go a page in the Talmud without encountering an argument between these two adversaries. Yet when Reish Lakish passed away, R. Yochanan was disconsolate. A new study partner was found for him, who in spite of his great erudition turned out to be a yes man. And R. Yochanan mourned this fact: “In the old days everything I would say Reish Lakish would challenge with 24 questions — and I would counter with 24 answers — and the topic was naturally broadened and enhanced. This scholar, however, brings proofs for everything I say!” (Talmud Bava Metziah 84a). The great debates of R. Yochanan and Reish Lakish did nothing but bring them closer. They shared a closeness and companionship over which death itself held no sway.

Finally, our mishna tells us that such arguments are not only for Heaven’s sake; they endure forever. We might have expected our mishna to say that such sincere arguments will be resolved peacefully — and everyone will live happily ever after. But as my teacher R. Yochanan Zweig pointed out, our mishna tells us the opposite — that such arguments will never end. What is the idea behind this?

The answer is that both opinions in such arguments are true and eternally valid. The scholars of the Mishna and Talmud were sincerely and truthfully attempting to understand G-d’s word. Using the tradition and tools handed to us from Moses, each tried to understand the Torah’s eternal truths in his own unique way. There were still debates and differences of opinions. As Jeremiah (23:29) put it, the Torah is as a “hammer smashing a rock” (fragmenting a single rock into many small pieces, all originating from the same source). There are 70 valid explanations to every part of the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). And all legitimate opinions became a part of our eternal Torah. The Talmud is replete with the opinions of scholars whose viewpoints are not accepted by Jewish law. Yet we study their opinions till this day, as seriously and reverently as the accepted opinions. All such scholars were not simply arguing. They were seeing different aspects of the same all-encompassing tr uth — just as the many facets of a diamond glimmer differently at different angles. And they, in all their disputes and differences, together saw the wisdom of the Torah in all its depth, beauty and harmony.

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5, Mishna 18

The Gift of Selective Memory

Chapter 5, Mishna 18
“There are four types of students (lit., among those who sit before the Sages) — a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sifter. The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on this [side] and brings out on the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour.”

This week’s mishna discusses four types of students, basically in terms of their ability to retain the knowledge taught to them. The sponge retains everything, but is unable to distinguish between correct and incorrect points (Maimonides and Rabbeinu Yonah) or between significant and insignificant ones (Rashi). The funnel is the one for whom information goes in one ear and out the other. The strainer discards the wine — the significant material, and retains the lees — the incorrect or insignificant points. He’s the sort who remembers all sorts of trivial, useless details of the material he studied, but has no idea he’s in a forest. Finally, the sieve retains the fine flour — the significant material, and discards the dust — the inconsequential details.

At first glance, one might think that the sponge, with his flawless memory, is the superior student. But our mishna, as well as the commentators, make it clear otherwise. The job of the Torah student is not simply to remember and regurgitate everything he has learned. One who just receives information and does little with it — other than swallowing it whole — has actually accomplished very little.

In the times of the Talmud there were students with exceptional memories whose task was to memorize and recite mishnas and other source material before the Sages. They were known as “tanna”s — those who learned or repeated. They fulfilled an enormously important task for the Sages — at a time when much of our tradition had not yet been committed to writing. However, they were hardly the leaders of the generation. The true masters of the Torah — and by natural extension the Jewish people — were those who were able to take the material of the Talmud, organize and structure it in their minds, and apply it to new situations — as well as impart it to others.

And in this, an exceptional memory could almost be a detriment. The sponge has no difficulty remembering everything. Therefore, he feels no need to sort through the material, identifying which points are significant and why. He just swallows the entire subject whole — digesting very little of it along the way. The sieve, who cannot — nor wants to — absorb everything must think through a subject fully, carefully weighing the significance and relative worth of each argument. In the end, his knowledge will be less encyclopedic but will have much greater depth and penetration. Most important — and this relates to our previous class — he will have put much greater effort into his understanding. His knowledge was not so easily attained and is not so superficial. It resulted from a much more focused, directed search — and will thus become a much more profound part of his being.

In this vein, we should note that the commentator Rashi, as quoted above, explained our mishna slightly differently from the other commentators. The others faulted the sponge for not distinguishing between incorrect hypotheses and correct conclusions. (Talmud study often involves much conjecture and refining of concepts before bringing an issue to clarity.) Clearly, wrong hypotheses are faulty and should be discarded. Rashi, however, explained that the sponge does not distinguish between significant and insignificant facts. This is because the truly great student need not remember every detail of a topic. Great sages are not walking encyclopedias. They do, however, see the depth and profundity of the Torah in all its breathtaking beauty. And through this they become transformed — into thinking, understanding human beings — and into true Torah personalities.

Thus, G-d “blesses” us with far from perfect memories. G-d knew what He was doing when He created us. I imagine it would have been *easier* for Him to create human brains which do not forget. Why not just give us umpteen terabyte hard drives? Once the data is loaded, it is there to stay. *We* can create such data-storage devices; can’t G-d?

In reality, however, it was a far meaner feat creating the concept of “forgetting” — with those hazy and selective memories we’ve all come to know and love. Just imagine, your fellow insults you, you lose a loved one, and you never forget! (Now, some of us are married to spouses who actually never *do* forget!) 😉 How would we go on with life? The pain, the loss would be there before us eternally. (For that matter, geniuses are often eccentrics for a variety of reasons…)

But again, forgetfulness is not only an emotional tonic. G-d created us of limited capacity for a reason — and a critical one. We must work if we want to understand G-d’s Torah. And further, unless we’re walking encyclopedias, we’ll have to carefully weigh and sift the material we do learn. Read a lecture, study a section of the Torah. At the end, you must go back: What are the truly significant points here? What am I to take from this? Summarize it in your mind — or even better, on paper. I will not remember every word, but what *do* I want to retain?

(To briefly harp on a point above, it is a known phenomenon that of the great geniuses born to the Jewish people — and we’ve certainly had our share — many have, shall we say, not really turned out. Such people tend not to take life all that seriously. They were never truly challenged; they never had to struggle. And they often just never really acquired what it takes to achieve in life. And equally tragic, the Torah they do study does not seem to penetrate very deep. It’s knowledge; they might have mastered it, but it never quite became a part of them. A Torah scholar recently commented to me that the person considered to be the greatest Talmudic genius today (I don’t know who he was referring to — just that it wasn’t me) is not very much of a committed Jew.)

We must thus always see what is significant — in both our studies and in life, hone in on the key points, and work to internalize them. Our Torah study will then be the result of careful and concerted effort: it will not and should not come easily. The end result will be not only a knowledgeable Jew, but one who views Torah and the world in all their greatness and profundity.

Challenges, Not Problems

Pirkei Avos

Challenges, Not Problems

Chapter 5, Mishna 14

By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

“There are four types of temperaments. One who is quick to become angry and quick to calm down — his gain is outweighed by his loss. One who is slow to become angry and slow to calm down — his loss is outweighed by his gain. One who is slow to become angry and quick to calm down is pious. One who is quick to become angry and slow to calm down is wicked.”

This mishna divides people into four categories based on their tempers. Note that our mishna does not measure anger using a simple linear scale. There are two primary determining factors according to the Sages — quickness to become angry, and length of time to calm down. These are quite distinct — stemming from entirely different parts of a person’s psyche. There are those who are edgy and excitable by nature, and who are easily roused to emotional outburst. Such people may by the same token forget just as quickly what it was they became excited about.

On the other hand, a person might generally be levelheaded, but be the sort to take abuse and offenses much more seriously. When threatened or insulted, he will withdraw and sulk for long periods of time — while exhibiting little or no emotion on the outside — bearing a grudge till his dying days. (Now, when the wife is the first type and the husband is the second (or vice versa of course), things could get hairy… 😉 )

The commentator Rashi adds a short comment to our mishna which I personally found eye-opening. Why is someone who is quick to anger and slow to calm down deemed wicked? Rashi inserts a few words: “Because through the anger he will come to sin, as it is stated, ‘Do not become angry and you will not sin’ (Talmud Brachos 29b).”

Rashi, in a few words, makes one thing clear: anger per se is not evil. You are not “evil” because you have a temper — or (theoretically at least) even because you exercise it. The concern is simply what it will lead to.

For that matter, the Pentateuch nowhere states “And the L-rd said unto Moses saying, speak unto the Children of Israel saying, thou shalt not get angry” — though we might almost expect to find such warm, fuzzy, feel-good imperatives in the Torah. And the Torah does not “forbid” anger for a very simple reason: for some people, that is their nature — and the Torah does not ask us to change nature. Just as we must not tamper with the nature of physical world by damaging the environment, we are not expected to alter the inherent nature of our souls. If a person has a temper, he is not supposed to freeze himself and cut out a part of his essence. He must accept himself for whom he is and work *with* his anger.

The Talmud writes that if someone was born under the planet Mars (which astrologically signifies a thirst for bloodshed, Mars being the red planet), he can be a bandit, a doctor, a shochet (one who ritually slaughters animals, making them kosher), or a mohel (one who performs circumcisions) (Shabbos 156a). Such a person has a predilection towards blood. He will not be happy as an accountant. What should he do with himself? Find a positive outlet for his drives. Violent tendencies are not “bad” per se (we would call them “challenges” nowadays). They certainly harbor dangerous manifestations, but they are a part of the G-d-given natures of certain people, and G-d, as we know, makes no mistakes.

Thus, if a person’s tendency leans towards aggressive and physical behavior, he must recognize his nature and *use* it. If he fails, he will satisfy his lust with crime and violence (or at best, boxing). If he succeeds, he will use the same very hands to heal others or prepare kosher meat, performing an admirable, respectable service to society.

(The Sages likewise point out that both Esau and David were of red complexion, signifying blood. The difference, say the Sages, is that Esau killed in war and conquest while David killed justly, and ultimately his battles were acts of peace and G-dly service. (See Bereishis Rabbah 63.))

Anger is no different. It is not a “bad” trait — though it certainly is a dangerous one. Someone who is just not easygoing, who takes insubordination and discord seriously — and there are many things in life which *should* be taken seriously — is never going to be a pushover. He has a nature he will never fully keep under lock and key. How is he to positively channel it?

First of all, we must distinguish clearly between anger and rage. Anger is — or can be — a controlled, deliberate, and directed response to sin and injustice. Rage is blind and mindless. A person who loses control of himself sheds his godly image altogether: he is no longer a human being in the eyes of the Sages. The Talmud writes that one who tears his clothes and destroys his property in his fury is as one who worships idols (Shabbos 105b). Rage is destructive and animalistic. Everything must be just his way or he’ll “lose it.” That is self-worship tantamount to idolatry, wholly missing the point that G-d and not we runs the world, and that our greatness stems from our resemblance to G-d alone.

Anger, to the extent that it is human nature, is something quite different. There are those who are fighters and zealots — many of Israel’s greatest leaders have been. But they must know what to fight for and why. And they must see it as G-d’s battle rather than their personal vendetta. Anger and fierceness can be used in many contexts — in determined and relentless pursuit of one’s own mastery of the Torah, in stubbornly upholding Jewish values in the presence of apathy and agnosticism, and in battle against falsifiers of Torah tradition. The key is sublimation — in consciously deciding *what* to be stubborn about and in focusing one’s fervor on what truly counts. Ultimately, such a person will not be “angry” at all. His anger will not be his own; it will be none other than a reflection of G-d’s anger — and of G-d’s will.

The Torah (Numbers 25) describes to us how Pinchas (Phinehas), for zealously murdering perpetrators of an immoral act, received a personal greeting from G-d. How did G-d greet this man of blood and vengeance? “Behold I extend to him My covenant of peace” (v. 12). G-d saw Pinchas not as a man of violence but a man of peace — a fighter for peace to be sure, but a man of peace nonetheless.

People with tempers have a much greater obligation than the rest of us. They possess iron wills and furious passions. If misused they are capable of terrible acts of physical and verbal abuse. If used properly they will use their very same nature in fierce and valiant struggle for Torah — and ultimately they will be numbered among the pious of Israel.

Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.


Chapter 3: Mishna 7: Part 4

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

In the first chapter of Berachoth (6a) it is taught “Ravin bar Ada said in the name of Rebbi Yitzchak: What is the source that when ten people pray, the Divine Presence resides among them? As it is written ‘Elokim stands in a Divine gathering…’ (Tehillim 82:1). And what is the source that when three people sit in judgment, the Divine Presence is with them? As it is written ‘In the midst of Elohim(referring to judges) He (referring to G-d) shall judge’ (ibid). And what is the source that when two sit and are involved in Torah [study] that the Divine Presence is with them? As it is written ‘Then those who fear G-d spoke to each other, and G-d listened and He heard; and a book of remembrance was written before Him…’ (Malachi 3:16). And what is the source that even one [person] who sits and is involved in Torah [study] that the Divine Presence is with him? As it is written ‘In every place that I allow my name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you’ (Shmoth 20:21). And since it is true of even one, is it necessary to teach me about two? Two have their words recorded in a book of rememberance; one does not have his words recorded. And since it is true of two (who study Torah) is it necessary to teach me about three (who sit in a Torah judgment)? [Had three not been taught explicitly] I would have said that a judgment is simply making peace (conflict resolution), and the Divine Presence doesn’t arrive. [Therefore] it informs me that a judgment is also Torah [study]. And since it is true of even three, did it need to teach me about ten? With ten, the Divine Presence arrives even before the entire group of ten [has gathered]; with three, It doesn’t arrive until they have all sat down (in judgment/ to study).”

Why is five not mentioned in the above discussion, while in our Mishna, five is mentioned? Furthermore, it discusses three who are sitting in judgment, while in our Mishna, we are taught only about three who are involved in Torah study that the Divine Presence among them! And the discussion about two and one seems to be superfluous, since it is an explicit Mishna! (The Amoraim of the Talmud don’t simply restate lessons that have already been taught in the Mishna. If they seem to be saying the same thing, there must be a new lesson to justify this seeming repetition.)

But the thesis we have presented above (in our last shiurim, parts 2 and 3) clarifies the difference between the lesson of the Mishna and the lesson of Ravin bar Ada. The Mishna is discussing how the variation in the number of people participating in the Torah study affects the intensity of the Divine attachment they receive. Not all attachments are equal. Ten creates a more intense attachment than five, which creates a more intense attachment than three, etc. (And that there is no fundamental increase when going from three to four, or from five to six, seven, etc. The tranformation points are at ten, five, three, two and one.)

But Ravin bar Ada is teaching us what it unique about each number, which has something that doesn’t exist in any other size group. Therefore, he omits five, since a group of five doesn’t bring about something that isn’t also found in the other groups. And three people involved in Torah study aren’t creating a reality that isn’t also created by other size groups. (Even though what is created my vary in intensity, it doesn’t vary in kind. Five and three are creating an attachment to the Divine Presence, and the only difference between the five/three and the other size groups is in the intensity of that attachment.) Now the questions and answers of the Gemara are better understood. First it asks “Since it is true of one, why was it necessary to teach me about two?” And the Gemara responds that two have their words written, something which doesn’t happen at all with one.

Why should two have their words written, something which isn’t attainable at all by one person? (The Maharal implies that it is understandable that two can bring about the same result in a more intense fashion compared to one, as indicated by our Mishna,. But he requires ­ and provides ­ and explanation of why two should be able to bring about a result that is not available at all to one person.)

The explanation is based on what we studied in Mishna 3. (See our explanations of this Mishna, expecially parts 2 and 3. We will elaborate in those ideas here.) When two people sit together and study Torah, there is an element of stability and permanence, since they require an appointed time and place, compared to one person, who can study Torah in a more haphazard way. The result of this stability and permanence is that their words are “written in a book,” since writing results in a dimension of permanence for the words (relative to words which are simply spoken).

What is the meaning of this “writing”? As we have explained earlier, man and his actions “draw” the image and representation of the world. (See our explanation of Mishna 2 in this chapter, all three parts) While the actions of animals don’t have a fundamental effect on the way the world looks, man, due to his elevated nature (being created as a reflection of G-d, as a creator) has his actions define a picture of the world. If man’s actions are good, the world looks good. And if, Heaven forbid, man’s actions are corrupt, a picture is created, and that picture reflects the negative world that man has drawn. (A drawing or a picture is not identical with the original but is rather a representation of it. The implication is that the world man draws is a representation of a higher level, more transcendent reality.) This is the “book” in which all of man’s actions are written, as we explained in the first Mishna of Chapter 2. (See our explanation of Ch. 2, Mishna 1, part 5 ­ which should be available in the archive ­ it was distributed over eight years ago!) This book is the impression on the world created by the Torah study of two people. There is a stability and permanence inherent in their study, since it is being done together, rather than individually. To make a lasting impression on a world — “writing in the book” — which was created with a dimension of stability, requires an activity which itself has a dimension of stability. This cannot be accomplished if less than two people are studying Torah together.

Text Copyright © 2004 by Torah.org.

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.


Hoshana Rabbah

The following events occurred on Hoshana Rabbah:

Hoshanah Rabbah – the Great Rejoicing. The last and greatest day of the feast. Gateway to Judaism Pg.342

A burnt offering of seven young bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect. Bamidbar (Numbers) 29:32

Ritual of the water libation is performed. day 7. Sukkah 42b

Zerubbabel is strengthened and told that a future temple would be greater than Solomon’s temple. Haggai 2:1-9

Yeshua invites the thirsty to drink living water. Note the “last and greatest day” in Yochanan (John) 7:37.

John 7:1-44 After this, Yeshua went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Yeshua’s brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Yeshua told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?” Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews. Not until halfway through the Feast did Yeshua go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Yeshua answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?” Yeshua said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Mashiach? But we know where this man is from; when the Mashiach comes, no one will know where he is from.” Then Yeshua, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, But I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Mashiach comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him. Yeshua said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?” On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Yeshua stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Yeshua had not yet been glorified. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Mashiach.” Still others asked, “How can the Mashiach come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Mashiach will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Yeshua. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Yeshua is the light of the world. Yochanan (John) 8:12

Talmudic Texts

Shabbath 22a R. Joshua b. Levi was asked: Is it permitted to make use of the booth decorations during the whole of the seven days?[74] He answered him [the questioner], Behold! it was said, One must not count money by the Hanukkah light.[75] God of Abraham! exclaimed R. Joseph, he makes that which was taught dependent upon what was not taught: [of] booths it was taught, whereas of Hanukkah it was not. For it was taught: if one roofs it [the booth] in accordance with its requirements, beautifies it with hangings and sheets, and suspends therein nuts, peaches, almonds, pomegranates, grape clusters, garlands of ears of corn, wines, oils and flours; he may not use them until the conclusion of the last day of the Feast; yet if he stipulates concerning then,[76] it is all according to his stipulation. — Rather, said R. Joseph: The basis[77] of all is [the law relating to] blood.[78]

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Shabbath 45a Resh Lakish asked R. Johanan: What of wheat sown in the earth or eggs under a fowl?[79] When does R. Simeon reflect [the prohibition of] mukzeh? Where one has not rejected it [an object] with his [own] hands; but where one rejects it with his own hands,[80] he accepts [the interdict of] mukzeh: or perhaps there is no difference? — He answered him: R. Simeon accepts mukzeh only in respect of the oil in the [Sabbath] lamp while it is burning: since it was set apart for its precept,[81] and set apart on account of its prohibition.[82] But does he not [accept it where] it [only] was set apart for its precept?[83] Surely it was taught: If one roofs it [the booth] in accordance with its requirements, beautifies it with hangings and sheets, and suspends therein nuts, peaches, almonds, pomegranates, grape clusters, garlands of ears of corn, wines, oil, and flours, he may not use them until the conclusion of the last Festival day of the Feast; yet if he stipulates concerning them, it is all according to his stipulation.[84] And how do you know that this is R. Simeon’s view? Because R. Hiyya b. Joseph recited before R. Johanan: Wood must not be taken from a hut on a Festival,[85] save from what is near it;[86] but R. Simeon permits it.[87] Yet both agree in respect to the sukkah of the Festival[88] that it is forbidden on the Festival;[89] yet if he [the owner) stipulated concerning it, it all depends on his stipulation![90] — We mean, similar to the oil in the lamp: since it was set apart for its precept, it was set apart for its interdict.[91] It was stated likewise: R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan’s name: R. Simeon rejects mukzeh save in a case similar to the oil in the lamp while it is burning: since it was set apart for its precept, it was set apart for its interdict.
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Sukkah 55b R. Eleazar[96] stated, To what do those seventy bullocks[97] [that were offered during the seven days of the Festival] correspond? To the seventy nations.[98] To what does the single bullock [of the Eighth Day] correspond? To the unique nation.[99] This may be compared to a mortal king who said to his servants, ‘Prepare for me a great banquet’; but on the last day he said to his beloved friend, ‘Prepare for me a simple meal that I may derive benefit from you’.

In The Temple

Simhat Bet Ha-Sho’eivah
Simchat Bais HaShoeva

Simchat Bet Hashoeva is celebrated every night of Succoth. On Hoshana Rabbah, however, the joy of the celebration must be infinitely greater, as emphasized in its very name, “the Great Hoshana.” Likewise, additional prayers are said on this day.

The performances and activities were led by the greatest Sages and the most venerable tzadikim. The simcha of Beit Hashoeva – literally the place of drawing water, is described in the Gemara (Succah 51) as being unprecedented and unparalleled, anywhere and anytime. “He who has not seen the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen simcha (joy)!” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Succah 5:1) goes further to say that that the word shoeva – drawing – refers not only to the water that was drawn, but to the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) that was available to be drawn from that most exquisitely inspiring and spiritually stirring simcha. The Gemara elaborates this in great detail.

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“The Complete ArtScroll Machzor – Succos”, Mesorah Publications.

The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary, by Michael Strassfeld.


Chapter 3: Mishna 6: Part 2

This idea (that one who is intimately connected to G-d escapes the limitations and control imposed upon him by physical systems) is embodied in the statement of Rabbi Yossi (Tr. Avodah Zarah 5a): “The Jewish people accepted the Torah [only] so that the Angel of Death, other nation[s], and other ‘tongues’ (cultures) should have no power over them, as it is written (Psalms 82:6-8) ‘I had said, you are Angels, all of you sons of the most High. Nevertheless, you shall die like a man, and fall as one man, O princes.’

The power of the “Angel of Death” represents the process of nature to which man is subjected, for death is a fundamental component of the natural, physical system. The power of nations and culture represents the governmental and social systems to which man is subjected. One who subjects himself to the burden of Torah, which is a Divine system, emancipates himself from being controlled by the natural and human systems (even as he must remain involved in them).

This idea is also taught in Chapter 6 (Mishna 2) ” ‘The tablets are the writing of G-d, engraved (charut)…,’ (Shemoth 32:16). Don’t pronounce it “charut” (engraved) but “cheirut” (emancipated), for there is no one who is free save one is involved in Torah, which elevates him…”. This Mishna explains to us that one who is involved in Torah elevates himself above the level of the natural system, which regulates the world (in a fixed and compelling way), and above the level of human regulation of society, neither of which are inherently natural (because there is no specific form of government, and no specific set of societal norms which are fundamentally compelling). This elevation frees man from the two systems which can exert control over him (within the physical system).

We still need to understand why it is that one who is involved in Torah achieves this elevation above the natural, physical world. “Sechel” (we have explained this to mean the spiritual/intellectual dimension of man) rises above the material world, which frees man from being regulated by the natural and societal systems, both of which emanate from Olam HaZeh” (the ephemeral, material world, which was created temporarily to enable man to prepare for the eternal “world to come”). One who is involved in Torah transcends the level of Olam HaZeh. Therefore the burdens of government and livelihood are removed from him.

Even though a person can’t exist without a livelihood, and he needs to work in order to have the resources necessary to be involved in Torah, he, nevertheless, doesn’t carry the BURDEN of a livelihood. When he accepts upon himself the burden of Torah, his livelihood will come to him without difficulty. This is because of his intimate connection with G-d, which raises him above the level of Olam HaZeh (the physical system, the nature of which imposes a struggle to earn ones livelihood).

But if he relieves himself from the burden of Torah, he is gravitating towards Olam HaZeh, the material world, by opting out of an existence in a higher level system. By rooting himself in the material dimension, the natural consequence is that he is subjected to controls and regulations inherent in that world, the burdens of government and livelihood.

When you understand “chochmah” very well (these are code words in the Maharal for the introduction of Kabbalistic concepts) you will understand how it is that one who accepts the burden of Torah has the burdens of government and livelihood removed from him. In the Beith Hamikdash, the Shulchan (Table) was in the north, and it symbolized royalty, which represents the regulation of governmental systems in this world. The Menorah was in the south, and it had seven branches, which represents the seven days of creation, the system of nature in the world. (The number seven always represents a natural cycle, encompassing the totality of the physical world.) This is known to those versed in “chochmah.” These two items of the Temple were situated in the Heichal (the main hall of the Holy Temple) which represents the material world. The Torah, on the other hand was kept in the Aron (the Ark), which was in the Holy of Holies, which symbolizes the metaphysical, upper world.

It should be understood that the burden of livelihood and the burden of government themselves are two distinct categories, the former emanating from the system of nature, and the latter system emanating from human consensus and dictates. The Torah transcends both systems, and frees man from their control and limitations, when he subjects himself to the system of the Torah. This was enough of an explanation to those who understand.

(With this concluding line, the Maharal again implies the Kabbalistic nature of these last ideas. Our Rabbis teach us that transmission of Kabalistic ideas is done by giving them over in vague terms, rather than spelling them out in detail, making proper understanding available only to those properly equipped to “fill in the blanks.”)

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.


Religion or Bird Watching?

Pirkei Avos

Chapter 5, Mishna 10

By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

“Seven types of punishments come to the world on account of seven basic transgressions. If some people tithe and some do not, a famine caused by [partial] drought will result; some will be hungry and some will be sated. If people have determined not to tithe, a famine resulting from both unrest and drought will result. [If people have also determined] not to separate challah [from their dough], a fully destructive famine will result.”

This mishna lists various punishments meted out by G-d for different types of sins. (The complete list of seven transgressions continues into the next mishna. In some editions of Pirkei Avos this mishna and the next are combined.) The punishments illustrate the extent and precision of G-d’s justice. In each case — as we will soon see — the punishment fits the crime precisely — in fact bringing to light the exact failing of each sin in ways we might not otherwise recognize.

The first set of transgressions deals with the tithing of produce. This was a major aspect of agricultural life in ancient as well as in modern Israel. A portion of the produce (~2%) was given to the Priests, 10% was given to the Levites, sections of the field would be left for the poor, an additional 10% was consumed in Jerusalem or given to the poor (depending on the year of the agrarian cycle), first fruits were brought to the Temple, and every seven years the fields were left fallow. Finally, when kneading a sufficient amount of dough, the “challah” portion would be set aside for the Priests. (This is apart from the tithing of animals, the tithing of wool, the gift of the firstborn animals, etc.)

The sheer volume as well as the complexity of crop laws would test the resolve of even the most devout of farmers. (The modern, white collar equivalent of this — also considerable but somewhat less taxing — is the accepted practice to tithe all earned income.)

Such laws were evidently a great challenge to the Nation of Israel throughout its abode in the Holy Land (see 5:12 http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter5-12.html). Jews have always recognized the significance of such forms of religious expression as the Sabbath and the holidays. Taking a little time off from work *makes sense*. No one can work seven days a week without break. Time off from the daily grind — for both physical and spiritual rejuvenation — promotes a healthy body as well as a healthy mind. The Jewish holidays too are a time to commemorate our past and realign ourselves with our heritage — as well as providing us with meaningful as well as much needed vacation time from the unending monotony of daily living. In fact, quite a number of the laws of our Torah — whether or not man would have come up with them on his own — just plain *make sense* to the thinking Jew and can be deeply appreciated if observed properly.

Tithing is a very different matter. Here G-d “interferes” with something much nearer and dearer to us — our earnings, and ultimately, our careers. What we earn through our own ingenuity or the sweat of our brow holds a special attachment to us. The Talmud writes that three things are particularly “dear” to a person (even if they are not the world’s finest) — a person’s hometown, his wife, and a purchase for which he spent money (Sotah 47a). What we earn or acquire through our own efforts becomes a part of ourselves.

When a religion asks us to part with our *spare* time — that we spend weekends or vacation time in spiritual pursuit — that we can tolerate and even appreciate. There are many who find religion an interesting and rewarding excursion — a fulfilling way to spend a spare Saturday or Sunday (or at least a small part of it). Judaism, however, in asking that we hand over our earnings, demands infinitely more: that we give ourselves.

(For that matter, I’ve come across many people over the years who have had a sincere interest in Judaism. They wanted to understand more and observe more. Yet they often would see religion as a meaningful diversion — almost as a hobby. If a lecture or Jewish event occurs in the evening or on a Sunday, they would be more than happy to attend. If, however, it interferes with work — nothing to talk about. (I knew one such person who had a real but casual interest in Judaism, yet because of the primacy of his career, found himself entertaining an important academic associate for the entire day of Yom Kippur.) I hate to put it this way, but one has to really question if such people are really ready to make a serious commitment to Judaism. Judaism as a *way* of life is truth and meaning; as a diversion from life is glorified bird watching.)

Judaism asks what for many of us is the ultimate sacrifice — our hard-earned incomes. Not only must we hand it over to G-d, but we must give of it freely to people who expended no effort over it — to the poor (and of course it’s their *own* fault they’re poor, etc. — we seem so qualified to play G-d when people come to our door), and to the non-working tribe of Levi.

The message is thus, clearly, that we are no more than custodians of our wealth. It is all a gift from G-d. He could have just as easily bequeathed it to the poor man as the rich. He granted it to us in order that we use it in the manner He intended — that we help those less fortunate and those who — as the Levites — are devoted fully and entirely to the study of Torah.

Lastly, if we fail to understand this message — if we fail to recognize the true source of our wealth — G-d will find need to remind us. Thus, if some tithe while others do not, a partial famine will ensue. (G-d will take down the stock market, cool off the housing market, etc. — He has no shortage of means.) Only those who withheld from others will suffer. If no one tithes, a more widespread famine will ensue, resulting from some other type of catastrophe, such as war or revolution. Finally, if even the tithing of dough is neglected, total famine will follow, resulting in widespread suffering and loss of life.

But G-d does not only punish us to remind us of this message. He rewards as well. The Talmud writes that charity is the one commandment that we have the right to “test” G-d (Ta’anis 9a). In the Book of Malachi G-d exhorts the people: “‘Bring all the tithes to the storehouse (of the Temple)… and test Me in this’ says the L-rd of hosts, ‘if I will open for you the windows of the heavens and pour out to you blessing without limit'” (Malachi 3:10).

Ordinarily, we have no right to test G-d. (“I will believe in You only if You give me a sign,” or “I will keep the Torah only if You give me what I want” etc.) G-d does not give free handouts. We pray to G-d and He is merciful, but this world provides no assurance that He will answer — or that the answer will be yes.

Charity, however, is different. We have the right to test G-d: to give more charity and fully expect to see results. (I leave this as an exercise for the reader.) 😉 It is thus literally in our hands to make G-d more evident in our lives — to give to Him and visibly see Him give back to us. Charity thus provides us with the opportunity — the privilege — of letting go: of giving over a part of ourselves to G-d — and in the process of allowing G-d to enter our lives.

Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.