Haftorah – Parshas Pinchas

Parshas Pinchas
Yirmiyahu 1:1
This week begins a series of haftorah readings which reflect the inner feelings of the Jewish people during their final months of the year.The series consists of moving visions of the prophets depicting the pending Jewish exile and destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and concludes with an ongoing exchange between Hashem and the Jewish people expressing a strong desire for reunification. Our haftorah speaks about the introduction of Yirmiyahu into prophecy and shows him somewhat reluctant to serve as the leading prophet of Israel. Yirmiyahu’s concern centered around his young age coupled with his lack of experience in speaking to an entire nation.He recognized the painful nature of his catastrophic predictions and feared that his prophetic words would actually endanger his own life. Hashem responded that He would personally direct Yirmiyahu and protect him from all opposing forces. Yirmiyahu consented and received his first proph ecy which he described in the following words. “And Hashem sent His hand which touched my mouth and He said to me, ‘Behold I’ve placed my words in your mouth.” This unique description of prophecy as “words placed in the mouth”, rather than words spoken to the prophet, suggest a strong dimension of force. It seems that Yirmiyahu actually felt compelled to speak his words of prophecy at all costs.

In truth, we find special significance given to the prophetic status of Yirmiyahu. Our Chazal (in Yalkut Shimoni 256) take note of the specific expression used by the Torah when introducing prophecy. In Parshas Shoftim (Devorim 18, 18) Hashem said to Moshe, “I shall establish a prophet amongst them likened to yourself. I shall place My words in his mouth and he will convey to the Jewish people everything I command. “Chazal reflect upon the words, “prophet likened to yourself (Moshe)” used here which suggest a parallel between Moshe and other prophets. Chazal raise the question that the Torah unequivocally states that no one ever achieved parallel status of prophecy to that of Moshe Rabbeinu. What the nis meant by these words “a prophet likened to yourself”? Chazal answer that these words allude to the unique role of the prophet Yirmiyahu. They explain that there was a clear parallel between the role of Yirmiyahu as the prophet of rebuke and the role of Moshe Rabbeinu. The y even draw lines between the life of Moshe Rabbeinu and that of Yirmiyahu. They note tha teach served a full term of forty years and was personally responsible for the ethical conduct of the entire nation. In addition, each of them faced serious opposition from their people for the hard stand they took in defending the name of Hashem. The Mahri Kra in support of this point (see comment to Yirmiyahu 1:9) adds that even the terminology used to describe their prophecy is of exact nature. The Torah refers to the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu and states, “I shall place My words in his mouth.”Interestingly, this exact expression “I have placed My words in your mouth” is used when describing the prophecy of Yirmiyahu.

As we have now seen, the introduction of prophecy makes direct reference to the ultimate prophet of doom, Yirmiyahu. One could question the high priority that Yirmiyahu’s prophecy occupies in the Torah. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu make reference to the prophet Yirmiyahu at the inception of prophecy and single him out from the other forty seven leading prophets? What was so significant about Yirmiyahu’s dimension of rebuke that made it the prime focus of Moshe Rabbeinu’s earliest discussion about prophecy?

In search for clarification of this point it is beneficial to study Moshe Rabbeinu’s reflections on the establishment of prophecy. In Parshas Shoftim Moshe says, “Hashem will establish a prophet in response to all that you requested of him at Sinai on the day you received the Torah. You said, ‘I can not continue hearing the direct voice of Hashem and will no longer risk perishing when seeing this great fire.'” “Hashem responded, ‘I will establish a prophet likened to you and will place My words in his mouth.'”(D’vorim 18:16) The Ramban (ad loc.) explains that the Jewish people requested that Hashem transmit His messages to them through words of prophecy. They found it too difficult to listen directly to Hashem because of the intensity of His words and opted to hear them through the prophets. With this request they agreed to hear the clear words of the prophets regardless of the severity of their nature. Hashem, in effect, consented to the Jewish people’s request for proph ecy, reserving the right to address them in the strongest of terms. The Jewish people readily accepted this alternative in place of hearing Hashem’s direct and piercing words.

We now have a clear perspective regarding Moshe Rabbeinu’s hidden prediction to the Jews. In truth, during Moshe’s era the Jewish people were fully willing to listen to his piercing words of prophecy. This was of course in place of an all too familiar and highly intensified experience of listening to the words of Hashem Himself. Yet in later generations when the Jews would stray from the path of Hashem this task would become extremely difficult. Now that the dreaded alternative of hearing directly from Hashem was far out of sight the Jewish people could be prone to silencing their prophets restricting them from conveying penetrating messages. Moshe, therefore, warned them at the outset that their agreement was eternally binding and that in later years Hashem would send them a prophet whose words of rebuke would be as piercing as those of Moshe Rabbeinu himself.

We can now appreciate the opening words of Yirmiyahu in which he portrayed himself as compelled to speak the word of Hashem. It was the unpleasant role of Yirmiyahu to predict, in the most vivid form, the Jewish exile and the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. These tidings were so penetrating and dreadful that the Jewish people would react to them as if they had heard direct words from Hashem. Yirmiyahu sensed the intensity of his prophetic mission and felt as if Hashem Himself was speaking directly tothe Jewish people. He therefore expressed that Hashem placed words in the prophets mouth and delivered them directly to the Jewish people. In this regard Yirmiyahu was truly likened to Moshe Rabbeinu through whom Hashem delivered the clearest of messages to His people.

Haftorah, Copyright © 2015 by Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Torah.org. The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of Kiryat Sefer, Israel.

The Ten Days of Repentance


The Ten Days of Repentance
The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (12b) states: “Rabba bar Chinena said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year, one recites (in the Amida prayer) ‘Ha’el Ha’Kadosh’ and ‘Melech Ohev Tzedakah U’Mishpat’ besides for the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur when one recites ‘Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh’ and ‘Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat’.” This means that during the Ten Days of Repentance, one must conclude these specific blessings in the Amida prayer by saying “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh” and “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat”. Rashi (ibid.) explains that the reason for this is because during these days, Hashem exhibits his sovereignty by judging the entire world.

If one is recites the Amida during the Ten Days of Repentance and in the middle of praying he becomes unsure if he has concluded these respective blessings by reciting “Ha’el Ha’Kadosh” and “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh”, according to Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a, he must assume (in any situation) that he concluded these blessings the way he is accustomed to the rest of the year and he must return to the beginning of the Amida prayer.

If one concluded the blessing by saying “Ha’el Ha’Kadosh” but corrected himself immediately within the amount of time that it takes to say the words “Shalom Alecha Rebbi” (approximately two seconds) and recited the words “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh”, he has fulfilled his obligation and he need not return to the beginning of the Amida. The same applies to “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat”: If one mistakenly concluded the blessing the way he is accustomed to all year long but corrected himself immediately and said “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat”, he has fulfilled his obligation.

Nevertheless, regarding “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat”, if one concludes the blessing by saying “Melech Ohev Tzedakah U’Mishpat” and did not correct himself immediately and say “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat”, one need not return to the beginning of the Amida prayer; one need only return to the beginning of the “Hashiva” blessing (eleventh blessing of the Amida) and continues from there as usual. Only if one realizes that he has mistakenly said “Melech Ohev Tzedakah U’Mishpat” after he has concluded the entire Amida will one be required to return to the beginning of the Amida prayer. “The conclusion of the Amida prayer” in this context refers to one who has concluded the recitation of the “Yihyu Le’Ratzon” verse following the “Elokai Netzor” paragraph.

The difference between the conclusion of this blessing during the rest of the year which is “Melech Ohev Tzedakah U’Mishpat” and the “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat” conclusion recited during the Ten Days of Repentance is that whereas “Melech Ohev Tzedakah U’Mishpat” means that Hashem loves when His creations act in a righteous and just manner, “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat” refers to Hashem Himself being the Almighty Judge of the world.

The Ashkenazi custom is that one who errs in the “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat” blessing does not return at all, whether he realizes his mistake in the middle of the Amida prayer or at its conclusion. Indeed, even a Sephardic individual who errs in the “Ha’Melech Ha’Mishpat” blessing, before he begins reciting the Amida prayer once again, he should make the following condition: “If I am indeed obligated to pray again, I am reciting this Amida prayer again as an obligatory prayer. However, if I am not obligated to pray again, this Amida prayer that I am about to recite should be a voluntary, ‘donated’ prayer.”

Our Sages teach us (Rosh Hashanah 18a) teach us that the words of the verse “Seek out Hashem when He is present, call Him when He is near,” refers to the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when Hashem is considered to be closer and more accessible to His creations and their prayers are more easily accepted before Hashem. The Rekanati (Bereshit 22) writes that without these days, the path to acceptance of our prayers would surely be much more far removed from us, for the prosecuting angels created from one’s sins are almost always present and they prevent one’s prayers from being willingly accepted by Hashem. However, during these days when one’s prayers reach infinitely closer to Hashem and are more willingly accepted, one shall merit that his prayers be accepted during these days. One must therefore undertake the awesome responsibility of concentrating on every prayer during these Days of Awe and not to lose even one of them, for each one’s reward is priceless.

As we all know, during the days preceding Yom Kippur, it is customary to increase the amount one donates for Tzedakah. This is especially true with regards to Kaparot, for if one does not fulfill this custom using a chicken, one should fulfill it using money by placing this money on the head of the one requiring atonement and then circling this money around the individuals head while reciting the text of “Elu Ha’Ma’ot Chalifatecha/Chalifatech” which is printed in all Yom Kippur Machzorim. One must nevertheless take care to donate this money to a trustworthy group who is well-known for the integrity of their charity organization as we have spoken about several times.

Daf for Shabbos – Chagigah 19

Daf Notes is currently being dedicated to the neshamah of

Tzvi Gershon Ben Yoel (Harvey Felsen) o”h

May the studying of the Daf Notes be a zechus for his neshamah
and may his soul find peace in Gan Eden and be bound up in the Bond of life.


Rav Nachman rules: One who is washing his hands for chulin does not require intention for purification, however, one who washes his hands for maaser must have specific intention for purification, otherwise, his hands will remain tamei.


The Gemora inquires as to the source for this distinction: The Gemora cites a Mishna in Mikvaos (5:6): If a wave that consisted of forty se’ah separated from the sea and fell on a person or utensils that were tamei, they become tahor. This would seemingly prove that intention to purify himself would not be required for chulin.


The Gemora rejects the proof: Perhaps the Mishna is referring to a case where the person is sitting on the shore waiting for the wave to separate from the sea and fall on him or on the utensils.


The Gemora offers another proof from a Mishna in Machshirin.


Rabbah asked Rav Nachman from our Mishna which states: If he immersed himself with no intention whatsoever (only to wash himself); it is regarded as if he didn’t immerse himself at all.This would indicate that intention is needed for chulin as well.


The Gemora answers: The Mishna means that immersion without any intention is not valid for maaser or terumah, but it is valid for chulin. (18b – 19a)


Rabbi Elozar said: One who immersed himself in a mikvah (ritual bath) and is coming up from the mikvah, he may decide then to purify himself for whatever level he wishes. (Tosfos states: As long as his body is still wet.)


The Gemora asks from a braisa: If he still has one foot inside the mikvah, he is permitted to change to a stricter level than he originally intended for, but if he is completely out of the mikvah, he may not change.


The Gemora explains the braisa as follows: If he still has one foot inside the mikvah, he is permitted to change to a stricter level than he originally intended for, however if he is completely out of the mikvah, he may decide to purify himself for whichever level he wishes, but he may not change to a different level that he originally intended for.


The Gemora discusses the ramifications of this halacha in respect to a Biblical tumah and a Rabbinic tumah. (19a)


The Gemora cites a Mishna in Mikvaos (7:6): If there was a mikvah that was precisely forty se’ah and two people immersed themselves one after the other, the first one is tahor and the second one is tamei (since the first one inevitably took some of the water with him). Rabbi Yehudah said: If the second one immersed while the first one’s feet is still touching the water, the second person is tahor as well (using the principle of gud achis, the water on the first person is connected to the water in the mikvah and regarded as part of the mikvah). (19a)


Ula said: I inquired from Rabbi Yochanan: According to Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion (we can connect the water on the person’s body to the mikvah if his feet are still touching the water), may one immerse a needle on the head of the first person (while his feet are still touching the water)? Does Rabbi Yehudah only hold of gud achis, we extend and lower the water (on his body) to the mikvah, but he does not hold of gud asik, we extend and raise the water in the mikvah to the top of his head?


Rabbi Yochanan replied by citing a braisa: If there were three holes on a slope of a valley; the top and bottom hole each contain twenty se’ah of water and the middle one has forty se’ah. A flow of rainwater connects the three holes. Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Meir that one may immerse himself in the top hole (since we apply the principle of gud asik, we extend and raise the water from the middle hole to the one on the top. Accordingly, we can use the same principle and immerse a needle on the head of the first person, provided that his feet are touching the water.


The Gemora cites another braisa which states that the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah is that one may only immerse himself in the bottom hole and not the top one. (19a – 19b)


The Mishna had stated:  One who immersed himself with the intention of purifying himself for chulin, is prohibited from eating maaser sheini; one who immersed himself with the intention of purifying himself for maaser sheini, is prohibited from eating terumah.


The Gemora states that this part of the Mishna is according to the opinion of the Chachamim who maintain that there is a distinction between the laws of chulin and those of maaser.


The latter part of the Mishna stated: The clothing of the perushim is regarded as tumas madrasfor those that are eating terumah. Here the Mishna omitted maaser, which would indicate that the Mishna is following the viewpoint of Rabbi Meir who maintains that there is no distinction between the laws of chulin and those of maaser.


The Gemora states that indeed it is; the first part of the Mishna is in accordance with the Chachamim and the latter part of the Mishna follows the viewpoint of Rabbi Meir.


Rav Acha bar Ada said that his version of the Mishna had five levels (including maaser) even in the latter part of the Mishna and thus the entire Mishna will be following the opinion of the Chachamim that there is a distinction between the laws of chulin and those of maaser.









In the sefer Torah Lishma from the Ben Ish Chai, the following inquiry was asked: Our sages said that prayer without the proper kavanah (intent) is akin to a body without a soul. This being the case, what would be the purpose of prayer when one is unable to concentrate during his Tefillah due to the worries that weigh on his mind? Would such a prayer be accepted?


Furthermore, if one understands the words of tefillah and the basic translation of the prayers but does not comprehend the secrets hidden in the tefillos, then the depths of the prayers revealed to us by the Zohar and the Arizal will remain a mystery to him. One who is capable of performing a mitzvah in its entirety but does not grasp the hidden meanings of the mitzvah would seem to be missing an integral part of the mitzvah. Most people are on this level as they fulfill mitzvos and pray three times a day according to their basic understanding and because it is the will of Hashem. Is it possible, then, that most of our generation is deficient in tefillah and the performance of mitzvos due to a lack of comprehension regarding the profound implications of prayer and mitzvah performance?


The Ben Ish Chai responds: One who cannot concentrate on his prayers because he is entertaining other thoughts during tefillah should nevertheless continue to pray. This can be proven from the following Zohar in Parashas Vayechi: Rav Chizkiyah said that it is said that one should first prepare the praise of his Master and then pray. What should one do, however, if his heart is heavy and he wishes to pray, yet, since he is in distress he cannot properly formulate the praise of his Master? Rabbi Yosi responded that despite the fact that he cannot focus properly on his prayers and he will not be able to formulate the praise of his Master properly, he should still formulate the praises of his Master and he should pray. This is what it is said, a prayer of Dovid: Hear HaShem, what is righteous, be attentive to my supplication. First, hear HaShem righteous, as this is the formulation of praises for his Master, and subsequently, be attentive to my supplication, [give ear to my prayer]. One who is capable of formulating the praises of his Master and does not do so, regarding him it is said, even if you were to intensify your prayer, I will not listen.


In regards to the second question, the Ben Ish Chai writes that one is obligated to attempt to learn and understand the secrets of Hashem as Dovid told his son Shlomo: Know the G-d of your father and serve Him. Nonetheless, one who did not merit understanding these concepts and concentrates on the basic translation of the words and performs a mitzva with all its intricacies, his tefillah and mitzvos are considered complete and they are not deficient. This idea can be proven from the words of the Zohar in Parashas Yisro: If a mitzvah comes his way and he focuses on it, he is meritorious. If one did not have the proper intention he is meritorious as he has performed the will of his Master. Yet, he is not deemed to be like one who has fulfilled HaShem’s will selflessly and has performed the deed with the intention of fulfilling HaShem’s will for the sake of HaShem’s glory like one who does not know how to think. The reason for this is because the matter is dependant on the will performed selflessly and with the action selflessly performed below, the action above is removed and is purely rectified. In a similar vein, the action of the body rectifies the action of the soul with that will, as HaShem desires the heart and will of a person. Nonetheless, one needs to act wholeheartedly, which is the essence of everything, and regarding this Dovid prayed and said, may the pleasantness of the Lord, our G-d, be upon us, our handiwork, establish for us. No man is wise enough to align his will and his heart to rectify a matter completely, and for that reason he prays, our handiwork, establish for us. What is meant by the words establish for us? Establish and rectify Your rectifications above appropriately upon us. This, despite the fact that we are not capable of aligning our will completely. Rather, we perform the action, and You establish our handiwork. One who is on that level who requires rectification, establish it as one so that this matter should be rectified properly.


It thus emerges that this is precisely what Dovid requested of HaShem; a mitzvah or tefillah should not be regarded as deficient because of one’s lack of understanding regarding the secrets that are contained in the mitzvos. Rather it should be considered complete and whole without the slightest blemish.


For this reason our sages have instructed us to recite the tefillah of vihi noam prior to the performance of any mitzvah or the recital of any tefillah. The recital of this verse inspires Dovid’s prayer and our deeds will be accepted completely despite the fact that we did not have the proper intention.


Rabbeinu Chaim, son of Rabbeinu Yitzchak, one of the Rishonim quotes our Gemora: We have learned in a Mishna in Mikvaos (5:6): If a wave that consisted of forty se’ah separated from the sea and fell on a person or utensils that were tamei, they become tahor. The Gemora explains that the Mishna is referring to a case where the person is sitting on the shore waiting for the wave to separate from the sea and fall on him or on the utensils. It is evident from our Gemora that even though the person did not directly immerse the utensils in the water; he was merely anticipating that the wave will detach itself from the sea and fall on the contaminated utensils, this is sufficient, provided that he has intention that the water should purify the utensils.


The Gemora in Chulin (31) states a similar halacha regarding a woman who was a menstruant. If water fell on her and her friend anticipated this and had intention for her, the immersion would be valid even though the menstruant herself was not intending for this to happen.


It would follow that we can apply this principle to other mitzvos as well. One who bakes matzah must have intention that it is being baked for the commandment of matzah. If one was baking without the proper intention, but another person was observing and did have the proper intention, the baking is valid and the matzah may be used for the mitzvah.


Rabbeinu Chaim concludes: If the intention of one’s fellow can facilitate the fulfillment of the mitzvah for his friend, then certainly the intentions of the Holy One, Blessed is He can achieve the same result. We entreat of HaShem before our prayers and prior to the performance of a mitzvah that He should establish our handiwork and rectify our actions for we are not capable of aligning our will completely. It is our mission to perform the actions to the best of our capabilities and Hashem will rectify the deeds appropriately.






 L’zecher Nishmas HaRav Raphael Dov ben HaRav Yosef Yechezkel Marcus O”H


Daf Insight

The Gemara (Chagigah 4b) states:

R. Eleazar, when he came to the [following] verse, wept: And Samuel said to Saul: Why hast thou
disquieted me, to bring me up? Now if Samuel, the righteous, was afraid of the Judgment, how much more so should we be! How do we know this about Samuel?

— For it is written: And the woman said unto Saul: I see godlike beings coming up out of the earth. ‘Coming up’ implies two:one was Samuel, but [who was] the other? Samuel went and brought Moses with him, Saying to him:Perhaps, Heaven forfend, I am summoned to Judgment: arise with me, for there is nothing that thou hast written in the Torah, which I did not fulfill.

Tosfos there (heading “For There is Nothing“) asks: How would Moshe Rabbeinu be able to testify about Shmuel HaNavi’s perfect integrity given that they lived centuries apart? They answer: Shmuel brought Moshe Rabbeinu to attest that he had correctly interpreted the Torah.

I see two fascinating points from this Gemara, and both of them are fundamental for a Jew’s path to self-perfection.

The first observation is about what the Gemara is relating that Shmuel felt a deep fear of the Judgement. What was he afraid of? After all, Shmuel HaNavi had led a life of vast accomplishments and pure integrity (as he himself attested to in Shmuel I 12:3-5). What’s even more curious is the fact that this occurs well after Shmuel HaNavi’s death, so presumably the Heavenly Court that judges each person when they come back up to shomayim had concluded what we are all certain of: that Shmuel led a perfect life–so what caused this great fear in him?

This Gemara underscores the depth and scope of Hashem’s judgement. With all of Shmuel HaNavi’s assurances that he had always made the right choices in life, this did not assuage his profound fear of being examined through the penetrating lens of Hashem’s Justice. This is a thought that can add a healthy dose of seriousness to our thoughts and actions and help us closer align them with the Truth of the Torah.

The second point is from Tosfos’ comment about how Moshe Rabbeinu could attest to Shmuel HaNavi’s perfect integrity–by confirming the correctness of Shmuel’s interpretations. Just because Shmuel interpreted the Torah correctly, why does it follow that he acted uprightly?

I think the answer is that when it comes to Torah it is basically impossible (granting that there have been rare exceptions) to engage in the necessary toil to gain true Torah understanding without actually living according to the laws and ethics of the Torah.

As the Masters of Mussar explain, this works both ways: one cannot approach true study of Torah without being one who fulfills (or at least aspires to) all of its details; and the person who has truly toiled in Torah will inevitably have been transformed into a person of purity and integrity.

Appreciating the depth of Hashem’s Judgement and what we can do about it is crucial in approaching Rosh HaShanah & Yom Kippur, and in how to organize life’s priorities.

May we all merit a sweet New Year of bracha and simcha.


Chagigah Daf 15

Daf Notes is currently being dedicated to the neshamah of

Tzvi Gershon Ben Yoel (Harvey Felsen) o”h

May the studying of the Daf Notes be a zechus for his neshamah
and may his soul find peace in Gan Eden and be bound up in the Bond of life.


The Gemora cites a braisa: Four men entered (through the use of the divine Name) the Pardeis (literally translated as orchard; it is referring to a spiritual place in the heaven closest to god). They were: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them: When you arrive at the stones of pure marble, do not say, “Water, water (how can we continue on?),” for it is said: He that speaks falsehood shall not abide before My eyes(and it is not actually water). Ben Azzai cast a look and died. Concerning him, Scripture says: Difficult in the eyes of Hashem is the death of His devout ones. Ben Zoma looked and became demented. Concerning him, Scripture says: When you find honey, eat so much as is sufficient for you, lest you be satiated, and vomit it up Acher chopped down the shoots. [He damaged his spiritual stature by observing Ma’aseh Merkavah.] Rabbi Akiva departed in peace.


Ben Zoma was asked (a different time): Is it permitted to castrate a dog (for perhaps the prohibition is applicable only to an animal which can be offered as a sacrifice, and a castrated animal is disqualified from being brought as a sacrifice)? He replied: Nor shall you do this in your land – this means that any animal which is in your land, you shall not do so (even to a dog).


Ben Zoma was asked: May a Kohen Gadol marry a virgin (as her hymen is still intact) who has become pregnant? [Do we believe her that she has not had relations with anyone?]  Do we in such a case take into consideration Shmuel’s statement, for Shmuel said: I can cohabit repeatedly (with a virgin) without (breaking the hymen and) causing blood (to come from it), or is perhaps the case of Shmuel rare? He replied: The case of Shmuel is rare, but rather, we do consider the possibility that she may have conceived in a bathtub (where there was a deposit of semen).


The Gemora asks: But behold Shmuel said: Any semen which does not shoot forth like an arrow cannot cause fertilization.


The Gemora answers: Initially, it had shot forth like an arrow.


The Gemora cites a braisa: Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananyah was standing on a step in the Temple Mount and Ben Zoma saw him but did not stand before him. Rabbi Yehoshua queried Ben Zoma as to where he was coming from and where he was headed. Ben Zoma responded that he was gazing into matters regarding creation and he observed that there was only a space of three fingers between the upper waters and the lower waters. This is because it is said, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters, and this means that the Divine Presence hovered like a dove hovers over its young but does not touch them. Rabbi Yehoshua told his disciples that Ben Zoma was still considered to be on the outside. The reason for this is because the verse that Ben Zoma quoted was said on the first day of creation, whereas the separation of the waters did not occur until the second day of creation.


The Gemora asks: And how much (was the distance between the two bodies of water)?


Rav Acha bar Yaakov posited that the separation of the waters was like a hair’s breath. The Chachamim maintain that the separation is like the separation between boards that are used for the construction of a bridge. Mar Zutra, and others say that it was Rav Assi, maintains that the separation was like the separation of two garments that are spread on top of each other. Some say that the separation of the waters is akin to two cups where one is stuck inside the other. (15a)


We learned earlier that Acher entered into Pardes, i.e. heaven, by using the Name of HaShem, and this resulted in Acher cutting off saplings, i.e. he adopted false theological beliefs. Regarding Acher it is said, let not your mouth bring guilt on your flesh. Acher saw that Matatron, an angel, was granted permission once a day to sit in heaven and record the merits of the Jewish People. Acher was bewildered by this sight, because there is a tradition that in heaven there is no sitting, contention, no back, as the angels are all one-dimensional, and no fatigue. Acher thus declared, “Perhaps there are two entities, heaven forbid!” Matatron was subsequently removed from his position and he was struck with sixty lightning rods. Matatron was told, “When you saw Acher you should have risen.” Matatron was then given permission to erase the merits that Acher had accrued.  A Heavenly Voice then announced, “Return O wayward sons, except for Acher. When Acher heard this proclamation, he declared, “Since I have been banished form the World to Come, I may as well derive pleasure from this world.” Acher then strayed to the ways of bad society, and he requested from a harlot to engage in promiscuity. The harlot asked him, “Are you not Elisha Ben Avuyah, whose name has spread throughout the land?” Acher proceeded to pluck a radish on Shabbos, in violation of the Torah, so the harlot decaled, “He is Acher,” i.e. he has been transformed into another person. (15a)


After he strayed to the ways of bad society, Acher asked Rabbi Meir a question, saying to him: What is the meaning of the verse: God has made the one as well as the other? He replied: It means that for everything that God created He created its counterpart. He created mountains, and created hills; He created seas, and created rivers. Acher said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your teacher did not explain it thus, but as follows: He created righteous people, and created wicked people; He created the Garden of Eden, and created Gehinnom. Each and every person has two portions, one in the Garden of Eden and one in Gehinnom. When a righteous man merits, he takes his own portion and his fellow’s portion in the Garden of Eden. When the wicked man becomes guilty, he takes his own portion and his fellow’s portion in Gehinnom.


Rav Mesharsheya said: What is the Biblical proof for this? In the case of the righteous, it is written: Therefore, in their land, they shall inherit a double portion. In the case of the wicked it is written: And destroy them with double destruction.


After he strayed to the ways of bad society, Acher asked Rabbi Meir a question, saying to him: What is the meaning of the verse: Gold and glass cannot equal it; nor shall its exchange be vessels of fine gold? He answered: These are the words of the Torah, which are hard to acquire like vessels of gold and vessels of fine gold, but are easily destroyed like vessels of glass. Acher said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your teacher did not explain it thus, but as follows: Just as vessels of gold and vessels of glass, though they be broken, have a remedy, so too a Torah scholar, though he has sinned, has a remedy. Rabbi Meir questioned him: Why don’t you repent as well? Acher responded: I have already heard from behind the barrier in heaven, “Return O wayward sons, except for Acher.”


The Gemora cites a braisa: Once Acher was riding on a horse on the Shabbos, and Rabbi Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from his mouth. Acher said to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already measured by the paces of my horse that until here extends the Shabbos boundary. He replied: You, too, go back! Acher answered: Have I not already told you that I have already heard from behind the barrier in heaven, “Return O wayward sons, except for Acher.” Rabbi Meir prevailed upon him and took him, to a study hall. Acher said to a child: Recite for me your verse! The child answered: There is no peace, Hashem said, to the wicked. He then took him to another synagogue. Acher said to a child: Recite for me your verse! He answered: For although you wash yourself with niter and use much soap, yet your iniquity is stained before Me. He took him to yet another synagogue, and Acher said to a child: Recite for me your verse! He answered: And you, O spoiled one, what will you do? If you clothe yourself with scarlet, if you don an ornament of gold, if you paint your eyes with mascara – in vain will you be beautifying yourself. He took him to yet another synagogueuntil he took him to thirteen synagogues; all of them quoted in similar vein. When he said to the last one, recite for my your verse, he answered: But to the wicked [v’larasha] God said:What purpose do you declare My statutes etc.? That child mumbled his words, so it sounded as though he answered: But to Elisha [v’la’Elisha] God said. Some say that Ahcer had a knife with him, and he cut him (the child) up and sent him to the thirteen synagogues, and some say that he said: Had I a knife in my hand I would have cut him up.


When Acher died, heaven did not wish to judge him to Gehinnom because he had engaged in Torah, yet he was not granted entry to the World to Come because he had sinned. Rabbi Meir then said, “Better that heaven judge Acher to Gehinnom and ultimately he will be granted entry into the World to Come. When I will die, I will cause smoke to rise from his grave (to show that he is being punished in Gehinnom).” When Rabbi Meir died, smoke rose from the grave of Acher. Rabbi Yochanan said: Is it a mighty deed to burn one’s teacher! There was one amongst us (who strayed), and we cannot save him; if I were to take him by the hand, who would snatch him from me! He said: When I die, I shall extinguish the smoke from his grave. When Rabbi Yochanan died, the smoke ceased from Acher’s grave. The public eulogizer began his oration concerning him (R’ Yochanan) thus: Even the watchman (of Gehinnom) could not stand before you, our teacher (when you entered to withdraw Acher from there).


Acher’s daughter once came before Rebbe and said to him: My teacher, support me (for I am poor)! He asked her: Whose daughter are you? She replied: I am Acher’s daughter. He said to her: Are any of his children left in the world? Behold it is written: He shall have neither child nor grandchild among his people, nor any remaining in his dwellings. She answered: Remember his Torah learning and not his deeds. Immediately, a fire came down and singed Rebbe’s bench. Rebbe wept and said: If it be so on account of those who disgrace her (the Torah), how much more so on account of those who compliment her!(15b)


The Gemora asks: How was Rabbi Meir allowed to learn Torah from Acher, as it is said: for the lips of the Kohen shall safeguard knowledge, and people should seek teaching from his mouth; for he is an agent of HaShem, Master of Legions. This verse is understood as follows: If the master is akin to an angel of God, then one should seek Torah from his mouth, but if the master is not like an angel of God, then one should not seek Torah from his mouth.


Rish Lakish answers that Rabbi Meir merely learned from Acher’s teachings but not from his devious acts.


The Gemora explains the verses as follows: one who is grown can study from a teacher who is not akin to an angel of God (for he will not learn from his deeds), but one who is young should not study from such a teacher.


When Rav Dimi came to Bavel, he said: In the west they said that Rabbi Meir ate the outer part of the date (whatever was worthwhile), but discarded the inner pit. (15b)


Rava expounded: What is the meaning of the verse: I went down to the garden of nut trees, to look at the green plants of the stream, etc.? Why are Torah scholars likened to the nu tree? It is to tell you that just as in the case of the nut, though it becomes dirty with mud and dung, yet its contents do not become repulsive, so too in the case of a scholar, although he may have sinned, his Torah does not become repulsive. (15b)


Rabbah bar Shila met Eliyahu the Prophet and asked him what HaShem was doing at that moment. Eliyahu responded that HaShem was repeating words of Torah from the mouths of all the sages except for Rabbi Meir, because Rabbi Meir had studied Torah from Acher. Rabbah bar Shila wondered about this, because Rabbi Meir was akin to one who ate the inner part of a pomegranate and discarded the rind. Eliyahu responded that now HaShem was declaring, Meir my son says thus. When a man suffers, to what expression does the Divine Presence give utterance? “My head is heavy, my arm is heavy.” If the Holy One, Blessed be He, is thus pained over the blood of the wicked, how much more so over the spilled blood of the righteous.


Shmuel found Rav Yehudah leaning on the bolt of a doorway, and he was weeping. He said to him: Sharp one, why do you weep? He replied: Is it a small thing that is written concerning the Rabbis? Where is he that counts, where is he that weighs? Where is he that counts the towers? Where is he that counts? — for they counted all the letters in the Torah.Where is he that weighs? — for they weighed all the kal vachomers in the Torah. Where is he that counts the towers? — for they taught three hundred halachos concerning a ‘tower which floats in the air.’ And Rabbi Ammi said: Doeg and Achitofel had three hundred unresolved questions about a suspended tower; but yet we have learned in a Mishna: Three kings and four commoners have no share in the World to Come. [The three kings are: Yarovam, Achav, and Menasheh. The four commoners are: Bilam, Doeg, Achitofel, and Geichazi. ] What then shall become of us? Shmuel said to him: Sharp one, there was impurity in their hearts (but your heart is pure).


The Gemora asks: But what of Acher? [What impure thoughts did he have?]


The Gemora answers: Greek song did not cease from his mouth (even before he went astray).


The Gemora offers another answer: It is told of Acher that when he used to rise (from his seat) in the study hall, many heretical books used to fall from his lap.


The Gemora relates: Nimos the weaver asked Rabbi Meir: Isn’t it true that all wool that goes down into the dyeing kettle come up properly dyed? [Does the study of the Torah under a Sage serve to protect all students from sin?] He replied: All that was clean from its mother (when it was initially shorn) comes up properly dyed, all that was not clean from its mother does not come up properly dyed. [All who begin the study of the Torah when they are free from sin will be properly protected.] (15b)



Floating Towers


The Gemora states that Doeg learned 300 halachos about “a floating tower”. Rashi offers a number of explanations of this term:

  1. Reasons that the top stroke of the Lamed is pointed down.
  2. The halachos of one who enters lands outside of Eretz Yisrael, which render one impure, enclosed in a container.
  3. Ways to magically make a tower hover in midair.
  4. Halachos of impurity of a corpse (tumas mais) relating to a tower that is not under a roof, as discussed in Ahalos (4:1).
  5. Rashi here suggests that this refers to the tower built by the dor haflagah – the generation of separation.


The Maharsha explains that this refers to the question of the exact placement of the Bais Hamikdash, known as David’s tower. This tower had to be somewhat suspended, in terms of its elevation, and is therefore referred to as the “hovering” tower.








The Gemora records various incidents where Rabbi Meir discussed Torah subjects with Acher, his teacher. When Rabbi Meir questioned why Acher would not repent, Acher responded that he had already heard from behind the barrier in heaven, “Return O wayward sons, except for Acher.”


The commentators ask: Isn’t it true that there is nothing that stands in the way of repentance?


It is brought in the sefer Zichron Eliezer from Rabbi Shlomo from Sassav as follows: The heavenly voice that calls out has the capabilities to inspire all who hear it towards repentance except for Acher. He can hear the voice, but he will not become motivated because of it. If he would have decided to repent by himself, it would have been accepted.


A parable is given: A son was constantly rebelling against his father and the father’s rebuke was not resulting in any positive change at all. It came to a point, where the father simply gave up and informed his son, “From now on, I will not be reprimanding you anymore – you are on your own.” If the son would reflect upon the words of his father in a serious manner, he would become brokenhearted that his father has become so disgusted with him that he will not even be admonishing him; this will propel him to regret his past actions and beg his father for forgiveness, which he knows will be accepted.


The Shalah explains in a very similar manner: The Gemora Pesachim (86b) states: One should listen to everything that the host tells him except to leave. Even if the Holy One, Blessed is He notifies a person that he will not be assisting him any longer and it is as if he is being chased out of this world, it is incumbent upon that person to gird himself and harness all of his strength to repent and ask forgiveness; if he accomplishes this, there is no doubt that his repentance will be accepted.




The Gemora states: Rabbah bar Shila met Eliyahu the Prophet and asked him what HaShem was doing at that moment. Eliyahu responded that HaShem was repeating words of Torah from the mouths of all the sages except for Rabbi Meir because Rabbi Meir had studied Torah from Acher. Rabbah bar Shila wondered about this, because Rabbi Meir was akin to one who ate the inner part of a pomegranate and discarded the rind. Eliyahu responded that now HaShem was declaring, Meir my son says thus.


The commentators ask: What novelty did Rabbah bar Shila state that wasn’t known before? Why did the parable with the pomegranate result in Hashem repeating statements from Rabbi Meir?


The Gemora in Chagigah (27) states: The transgressors of Israel are full of mitzvos like a pomegranate.


A question is posed: Generally, transgressions are considered to be the most offensive kind of sin. Why, then, are transgressors deemed so worthy by the Gemora?


Kollel Iyun Hadaf cites from Rabbi Shimon Maryles, the Yoruslaver Rebbe in Toras Shimon as follows: The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 84:19) says that after Reuven repented for his sin, Hash-m promised him, “No one has ever sinned before me and repented [like you did]. My son, in reward for introducing Teshuvah to the world, I promise that your descendant will introduce Teshuvah as well.” The Midrash identifies that descendant as the prophet Hoshea, who issued a prophecy which begins with the words, “Return o’ Israel to Hash-m your G-d!” (Hoshea 14:2).


The Midrash’s assertion that Reuven was the first person to do Teshuvah is difficult to understand. The very first man, Adam ha’Rishon, as well as his son, Kayin, engaged in Teshuvah long before Reuven! Apparently, the intention of the Midrash is as follows: Reuven was the first to introduce Teshuvah as a necessary prelude to the performance of a Mitzvah (in his case, returning to rescue Yosef from the pit). The importance of doing Teshuvah prior to performing a Mitzvah is derived from the Tikunei Zohar (Tikun 6), which states that any Mitzvah performed wiyout an adequate blend of “fear and love” of Hash-m does not succeed in rising heavenward, for these two qualities serve as the “wings” of the Mitzvah. This is hinted to in the verse, “They shall raise you up in their palms, lest you knock your foot against a stone” (Tehilim 91:12) — the “palms” allude to the qualities of fear and love of Hash-m aroused through Teshuvah which protect one’s performance of a Mitzvah from the dangers of the Yetzer ha’Ra, often symbolized by a stone.


Thus, when a person performs a Mitzvah it is necessary that other elements be present — besides the actual execution of the Mitzvah — in order for the Mitzvah to be credited to that person in Shamayim. Those elements include fear of Hash-m, love of Hash-m, and doing complete Teshuvah before performing the Mitzvah, so that the Mitzvah is performed with the utmost sincerity. When a Mitzvah is performed in that manner, it acquires wings, so to speak, to fly up to Shamayim.


A perpetual transgressor (or “Posh’ei Yisrael”) invests none of these elements into the few Mitzvos which he manages to carry out in this world. As a result, his Mitzvos have no means with which to fly heavenward, and instead they settle and accumulate around him, convincing him that he is “full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate.” In contrast, the Tzadik — whose Mitzvos, borne by the thrust of his fear of Hash-m, love of Hash-m, and his Teshuvah, soar immediately heavenward, always appears to himself as bereft of Mitzvos because all of his Mitzvos go straight to Shamayim.


This is also the meaning of the verse (Devarim 30:2), “And you shall return to Hash-m your G-d” — that is, when you first do Teshuvah, you may “[then] heed His voice” — proceed with the performance of His Mitzvos, “according to all which I command you this day,” so that the Mitzvos can rise heavenward.


This is also the intention of the prayer we recite each morning, “May He place in our hearts love of Him and fear of Him, and [may those two qualities give us the ability] to do His will and serve Him with a perfect heart.” It is the love and fear of Hash-m, aroused through Teshuvah, which elevates one’s actions.


This idea explains the Mishnah in Avos (4:21-22): “Rebbi Yakov says: This world is like an anteroom before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the anteroom, so that you might enter the banquet hall.” The Mishnah continues, “He would also say: Better one hour of Teshuvah and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come, and better one hour of contentment in the World to Come than all the life of this world.” The connection between these two statements of Rebbi Yakov may be explained as follows: How should one prepare himself in the anteroom of this world for the reward of the World to Come? One should prepare himself in this world by doing Teshuvah before every Mitzvah that he does, so that those Mitzvos will rise heavenward on the strength of the fear and love that is aroused through his Teshuvah.


In this sense, it may be said that Rebbi Yakov was actually offering a defense for his grandfather, Elisha ben Avuyah (Kidushin 39b), the Tana who became a heretic and thereafter was referred to as “Acher.” The Gemara (Chagigah 15a) attributes Acher’s persistence in maintaining his rebellious lifestyle to a voice he once heard echoing from behind the heavenly curtain, which said, “Return, all you wayward children, except for Acher!” One might ask that, granted, the heavenly voice rejected the possibility of Acher repenting for the sins which he had already committed, but what prevented him, in the event that he did feel remorse, from accumulating a new store of Mitzvos that would count in his favor for the future? In answer to this question, Rebbi Yakov offers his insight: “Better one hour of Teshuvah and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come” — for wiyout the spiritual advantage of Teshuvah, all of the Mitzvos one does in this world have little effect. This might have been Acher’s reasoning which caused him to despair of ever correcting his ways.


Based on this, perhaps we can say that this was the meaning behind Rabbah bar Shila’s statement. Rabbi Meir understood Acher’s flaws but he viewed him as a pomegranate. Acher’s sins were all around him, but Rabbi Meir took the rind from the pomegranate and discarded it, demonstrating that Acher’s mitzvos were worthless and he should not consider himself righteous because of those deeds.





 L’zecher Nishmas HaRav Raphael Dov ben HaRav Yosef Yechezkel Marcus O”H


Daf Notes Chagigah Daf 14

Daf Notes is currently being dedicated to the neshamah of

Tzvi Gershon Ben Yoel (Harvey Felsen) o”h

May the studying of the Daf Notes be a zechus for his neshamah
and may his soul find peace in Gan Eden and be bound up in the Bond of life.

The Gemora cites a braisa: Rabbi Shimon the pious said: These (those who were ordained) are the nine hundred and seventy-four generations that were ordained originally to be created, before the world was created, but ultimately, they were not created. The Holy One, Blessed be He, went and planted them in each and every generation, and these are the bold-faced people in the generation.


And Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: the verse, “those who were cut down” is actually written as a blessing: These are Torah scholars who cut down on their sleep (in order) to study the words of Torah in this world. The Holy One, Blessed be He, will reveal secrets to them in the World to Come, as it is written: Their secrets will be like a pouring river. (13b – 14a)


Shmuel told Chiya bar Rav, “Son of the lion! Let me relate to you a good matter that your father said. Every day angles are created from the River of Dinor and they sing HaShem’s praises and they disappear. This is based on a verse that states, they are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.”


The Gemora notes: This statement is not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeini who said in the name of Rabbi Yonasan that every utterance of HaShem creates a new angel, as it is said, by the word of HaShem the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. (14a)


The Gemora notes a contradiction: One verse states: His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like clean wool. Yet, another verse states: His crowns hold mounds of statutes written in raven-black flame.


The Gemora answers that this is not difficult: The first verse refers to HaShem as old in the context of a Rabbinical academy, because an old man epitomizes a Torah sage, whereas the second verse refers to HaShem in battle, because a young man epitomizes battle; for the master stated: there is nothing better in a Rabbinical academy than an elder, and there is nothing better in a battle than a youth. (14a)


The Gemora notes another contradiction: One verse states: His throne was of fiery flames, which implies that HaShem has one throne, whereas a second verse states: as thrones were set up, and the One of Ancient Days sat, which implies that HaShem has two thrones.


The Gemora answers: The resolution to this discrepancy is that the second verse that was quoted refers to the throne of HaShem and the throne of Dovid HaMelech, as it has been taught in a braisa: One throne is for HaShem and the other throne for Dovid HaMelech; these are the words of Rabbi Akiva, whereas Rabbi Yose HaGelili maintains that to suggest that HaShem has a human sitting next to Him on a throne would render the Divine Presence profane. Rather, Rabbi Yose HaGelili maintains that one throne is for justice and one throne is for charity.


The Gemora inquires: did Rabbi Akiva accept this interpretation, or not?


The Gemora resolves this from a braisa: One throne is for justice and one throne is for charity; these are the words of Rabbi Akiva.


The braisa continued: Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azaryah rebuked Rabbi Akiva for expounding on Agaddic matters. He said to him: Akiva, what is your connection with Aggadah? Cease your talk until you reach the topics of Negaim and Oholos (laws of tumah and taharah, which are complex and more fitting for Rabbi Akiva); rather, one throne is for His chair and one throne is for His footstool. The chair is for Him to sit upon, and the stool is for Him to use as a footrest, for it is said: The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. (14a)


When Rav Dimi came (to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel), he said: Eighteen curses did Yeshaya pronounce upon the Jewish people (tribulations that would happen to them), yet he was not pacified until he pronounced upon them this verse: The child shall behave insolently against the elderly, and the base against the respectable.


The Gemora asks: What are the eighteen curses?


The Gemora answers: It is written: For, behold, the Lord, Hashem, Master of Legions, does take away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and mainstay; every support of bread, and every support of water; the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; the captain of fifty; and the respected man, and the counsellor, and the scholar of scholars, and the comprehender of whispers. And I will give children to be their leaders, and mockers shall rule over them, etc.


1] ‘Support’ — this means the masters of the Scriptures. 2] ‘Mainstay’ — this means the masters of the Mishnah, like Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima and his colleagues.


Rav Pappa and the Rabbis dispute the extent of their mastery of the Mishnah: One says that there were six hundred orders of the Mishnah (while currently there are only six), and the other said that there were seven hundred orders of the Mishnah.


3] ‘Every support of bread’ — this means the masters of Talmud, for it is said: Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mixed. 4] ‘And every support of water’ — this means the masters of Aggadah, who draw the heart of man like water by means of Aggadic teachings. 5] ‘The mighty man’ — this means the masters of halachic traditions. 6]  ‘And the man of war’ — this means one who knows how to engage in discussion in the battle of the Torah. 7] ‘The judge’ — this means a judge who passes judgment in the strictest accord with truth. 8] ‘The prophet’ — according to the literal meaning of the word. 9] ‘The diviner’ — this means the King, for it is said: There is a divination on the lips of the King 10]  ‘The elder’ — this means one who is worthy to sit in the Rabbinical academy. 11] ‘The captain of fifty’: do not read ‘the captain of fifty (chamishim),’ but rather ‘the prince of the Pentateuch (chumashim)’; it means one who knows how to engage in discussion in the five books of the Torah. Another explanation: ‘the captain of fifty’ — as Rabbi Avahu taught; for Rabbi Avahu said: From here we derive that a spokesman may not be appointed over a congregation, if he (the Rabbi) is less than fifty years of age. 12] ‘And the respected man’ — this means one for whose sake, deference is shown to his generation above, like Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa (as a Heavenly voice declared each day that the whole world was sustained in the merit of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa), or below (on earth) like Rabbi Avahu at the palace of the Caesar (for when Rabbi Avahu would go from the Beis Medrash to the Caesar’s house, the ladies of the Caesar’s household went out to receive him and sang about him, “Prince of his people, leader of his nation, lantern of light, your coming should be blessed with peace”). 13] ‘The counsellor’ — this means one who knows how to determine the intercalation of years and the fixation of months. 14] ‘And the scholar’ – this means a disciple who makes his teachers wise. 15] ‘Of scholars’ (charashin) — at the moment that he begins a Torah discourse, all become like deaf mutes (cheirshin). 16] ‘And the comprehender’ — this means one who understands one fact from another fact. 17] ‘Of whispers’ — this means one who is worthy to have imparted to him the words of the Torah, which was given in a whisper. 18] ‘And I will give children to be their princes’: what is the meaning of [the words], ‘I will give children to be their princes’? Rabbi Elozar said: It means people who are empty of good deeds. ‘And mockers shall rule over them’. Rav Acha bar Yaakov said: It means foxes sons of foxes (men who are weak and inferior).


The Gemora concludes: ‘But he was not pacified until he said to them: The child shall behave insolently against the elderly’: — those people who are empty of good deeds shall behave insolently against those who are filled with good deeds, as a pomegranate (is full with seeds). ‘And the base against the respectable’: those to whom grave sins appear as light ones will come and behave insolently against those to whom light sins appear as weighty ones. (14a)


Rav Katina taught that even at the time of Jerusalem’s downfall, there were still people of truth, as it is said, when a man will grasp his relative, a member of his father’s house, [saying,] ‘You have a garment! Become a benefactor for us.’ The word garment is interpreted to refer to matters of Torah which people would cover up like a garment. People were lax in Torah study and when asked a question they would feign ignorance and pretend that they had not heard the question. When they would discover someone who was knowledgeable in Torah, they would grasp him and ask him to be their leader, i.e. to teach them Torah.


It is said further in that verse, and let this stumbling block be under your hand. This stumbling block refers to Torah, which are matters that students do not pay close attention to until they have been corrected several times.


It is said further, he shall raise up an oath that day saying: I will not be a ruler, and in my house there is no bread and no garment; do not install me as a chief of the people. The word ‘raise up’ refers to an oath. The words ‘I will not be a ruler’ means I did not become one of those who locked themselves up in the study hall, i.e. I was not diligent in my Torah study. The words ‘and in my house there is no bread and no garment’ means that I do not have a knowledge of Scripture, Mishnah or Talmud. When the person would respond, ‘I am not accustomed to locking myself up in the study hall,’ he meant that he never knew the answer to the question.


This statement that even at the time of Jerusalem’s downfall there were still people of truth is contradicted from Rava’s statement that Jerusalem was only destroyed because people of truth had disappeared from it.


The Gemora answers that Rav Katina was speaking regarding words of Torah, as regarding words of Torah people were honest in that they were not knowledgeable.


Rava’s statement, however, was regarding business matters, as in this respect, people of truth had disappeared from Jerusalem. (14a-14b)


The Gemora cites a braisa: Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai was once riding on a donkey and Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach was riding behind him, and Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach requested that Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai teach him one chapter regarding the Ma’aseh Merkavah. Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai responded, “Did I not teach you that one cannot expound the matter of the Ma’aseh Merkavah to an individual unless he is wise and can understand on his own?” Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach requested of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai that he allow him to relate one teaching that he had learned from Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai. Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai agreed, and Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai descended from his donkey, wrapped his face and sat on a stone under an olive tree. When Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach questioned Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai regarding his behavior, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai responded, “is it possible that you are expounding on matters regarding the Ma’aseh Merkavah, and the Divine Presence is amongst us and the angels are escorting us, and I will remain riding on the donkey?” Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach immediately began to expound on matters regarding the Ma’aseh Merkavah and a fire descended from heaven and scorched all the trees in the field. All the trees then sang praise to HaShem. An angel from the fire declared that what Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach had expounded on was precisely the matters regarding the Heavenly Chariot. Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai stood up and kissed Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach on his head, and he said: Blessed be Hashem, God of Israel, Who has given a son to Avraham our father, who knows to speculate upon, and to delve into, and to expound the Ma’aseh Merkavah! There are some who expound well but do not act well, others act well but do not expound well, but you expound well and act well. Fortunate are you, O Avraham our father that Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach has come forth from your loins. Now, when these matters were told to Rabbi Yehoshua, he and Rabbi Yosi the Kohen were going on a journey. They said: Let us also expound the Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach; so Rabbi Yehoshua began an exposition. Now, that day was in the summer Tammuz season, and nevertheless, the heavens became overcast with clouds and a kind of rainbow appeared in the cloud, and the ministering angels assembled and came to listen like people who assemble and come to watch the merrymaking before a groom and bride. Afterwards, Rabbi Yosi the Kohen went and related what happened before Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai; and Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai said: Fortunate are you, and fortunate is she that bore you; fortunate are my eyes that have seen thus. Moreover, in my dream, I and you all were reclining at Mount Sinai, when a Heavenly Voice resounded towards us from Heaven, saying: Ascend here, ascend here! There are great banqueting halls and fine dining couches are prepared for you; you and your disciples and your disciples’ disciples are invited for the third division.


The Gemora asks: But is this so? For behold it was taught in a braisa: Rabbi Yosi the son of Rabbi Yehudah said: There were three discourses (dealing with Ma’aseh Merkavah): Rabbi Yehoshua discoursed before Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva discoursed before Rabbi Yehoshua, Chananya ben Chachinai discoursed before Rabbi Akiva; whereas Rabbi Elozar Ben Arach he does not mention!?


The Gemora answers: One who discoursed himself, and others discoursed before him, he mentions; one who discoursed himself, but others did not discourse before him, he does not mention.


The Gemora asks: But behold there is Chananya ben Chachinai before whom others did not discourse, yet he mentions him!?


The Gemora answers: He at least discoursed before one who discoursed before others. (14b)






Our Gemora cites a compelling statement from Rav Dimi. He said, “Yeshayahu cursed Klal Yisrael with eighteen curses. Yet, he was not satisfied until he pronounced, “The youngster will behave insolently against the elder, and the base against the honorable.” Yeshayahu uttered eighteen terrible curses, each one grave and serious with awesome ramifications. That was not sufficient. He wanted to deliver the final blow, the blow that would have the greatest effect. What was that curse that would outdo all the others, that would devastate Klal Yisrael’s chance for survival? It was the one that pronounced an end to the authority of the zekeinim, elders, and talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. We cannot survive without their leadership.


Why is this? Why is Klal Yisrael so unique that it cannot exist without the institution of elders?


Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum in his Peninim al Hatoah explains: Rabbi Akiva compares us to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly without its wings, so, too is Klal Yisrael helpless without its elders. A bird uses its wings to go higher and to remain airborne. Otherwise, it will fall to the ground, a helpless broken bird. Without its leadership, Klal Yisrael will not only not go forward; it will actually fall and cease to exist. A generation’s greatest disgrace is demonstrated when the people do not show respect to their gedolim, leaders. How shameful is it when people refer to gedolei haTorah in the most pedestrian terms? The arrogance of the common Jew, his self-declared scholarship, provokes chutzpah towards our leaders. One cannot accept leadership from another if he is filled with himself.


The Satmar Rebbe, zl, once set forth criteria for a gadol to be accepted. He must first be a talmid chacham, totally proficient in all areas of Torah erudition. Secondly, he must be a yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing person, who will not adapt his psak, halachic decision, as a result of outside pressures or personal vested interests. Third, he must have special, common sense. He must possess an acute ability to understand and deal with all people. He should be able to ferret out those who would undermine the Torah way of life. A gadol is the embodiment of Torah; he reflects it in his total demeanor. To respect a gadol is to respect the Torah. To deny a Torah leader the respect he deserves is to challenge the Torah itself.


One of the distinguished laymen who heard the Satmar Rav’s comments questioned him regarding a certain rav who fit the criteria, yet whose views regarding Orthodoxy were in contradiction to the Satmar Rav’s. The Rav responded that indeed the gadol in question truly “fit the bill,” but was deficient in one area. He was not “meshamesh,” did not serve in such a capacity that he understood how to deal with the incursions against Torah Judaism. Only certain rabbonim, such as those who served in a number of the larger communities in Hungary, in which they were compelled to fight a holy war to preserve the sanctity of Torah and mitzvos from those who would do anything to impugn and destroy the Torah way of life, were able to impart lessons based upon their own life’s experience. The Satmar Rav was an individual who, in addition to being a brilliant talmid chacham and pikeach, had absorbed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge from his rebbeim, who themselves were the gedolei Yisrael of the previous generation.


It is written [Devarim 1:13]: Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads. (1:13)


In a play on the word “and I will appoint them,” the Midrash changes the “sin” to a “shin”, transforming the word to “and I shall hold them guilty”. The Midrash is teaching us the importance of listening to our spiritual leaders. If they lead properly and the common people still do not respond with respect, the people are liable. They cite an interesting analogy. Once a snake was sliding along its path, when the tail began complaining to the head, “Why are you always in the front with me dragging along behind? I want to lead, while you follow in the rear.”


The head responded, “Very well. We will switch positions, and you will lead. Since the tail has no eyes, we can well understand what happened. The snake fell into a pit, then it was singed by fire. Finally it was scratched by a thorn bush into which it had run. The fate suffered by the snake was to be expected, given the fact that the tail had guided it.


Similarly, when the common Jew attempts to usurp the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael, we are beset with bruises — and in many instances — serious injury. Our Torah leaders are the “eyes” of the nation. They lead because they have vision. They have the necessary perspective to guide the people on the correct and safe path.


Even the best leader will succeed only if he has the respect and approbation of the people he is to lead. One earns this respect by virtue of his character and scholarship. At times, however, the people themselves are not worthy of their leadership, not recognizing the leaders’ virtue and capabilities.


Rabbi Scheinbaum continues: Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that when the youth lose respect for their elders — when they wrest the reins of leadership away from those whose wisdom is tempered by life’s experiences, from a leadership whose counsel is inspired by the Torah giants of a previous era — Klal Yisrael is as good as dead. This is not life! Indeed, such a circumstance represents the greatest curse. A nation whose leadership is not “mekabel,” will not accept advice from their elders, who are obsessed with their arrogance and sheer chutzpah; who denigrate the authority of their elders and render decisions based upon their own brash ideas, and shaped by their own vested interests, is not living a Torah life. Such a generation does not truly live.


Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that the Jewish people are unlike other nations, in that they cannot survive without the institution of “zekeinim,” elders. While other nations manage to survive without the leadership of sages or elders, our uniqueness renders our elders an essential prerequisite for our existence, rather than a mere luxury. It is Rabbi Akiva who says, “Yisrael is likened to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly away without its wings, so, too, is Yisrael helpless without its elders.” Rav Chaim explains that a bird without its wings is in a worse situation than an animal who never had wings. It remains a helpless, pitiful creature, victimized by any creature bigger and more powerful than it. Klal Yisrael without elders is just like that bird. It cannot survive. Undermining the power of our elders is tantamount to striking a powerful blow to the core of the life force of the Jewish People.


Horav Yechezkel Abramski, zl, put the idea into perspective with the following illustration: Imagine sitting at a distance of one hundred yards from a given point and asking a group of people if they are able to see a picture at this distance. One person will say he can only see thirty yards, while another will see forty yards, and yet another will see up to seventy yards. Suddenly, someone comes along with incredible eyesight who can see up to one hundred yards! Indeed, if all of the other people would get together, they could nevertheless not see as well as he, because the sight is limited. Having them all get together is to no avail because the eyesight of the individuals is still deficient.


The same idea applies to our Torah leaders: They see what others cannot; their vision extends beyond the grasp of the average person. Thus, if an entire group gets together to express their opinion in opposition of one gadol, their position carries no weight, because they cannot see what he sees. Their vision is stinted; their perspective is myopic. This is the reason that our Torah leaders are referred to as “einei ha’am,” the eyes of the nation.

 L’zecher Nishmas HaRav Raphael Dov ben HaRav Yosef Yechezkel Marcus O”H