The Dust of their Feet

The Gemara discusses the harsh punishment that one incurs when he treats the laws of Shemittah lightly. The Gemara uses the term avak shel sheviis, the dust of Shemittah, to refer to the less stringent laws of Shemittah.

We find elsewhere that the Gemara uses the term avak Lashon hara to describe slander that is rabbinically prohibited, and the term avak ribbis in describing rabbinically prohibited interest on a loan. Why does the Gemara use the word avak, dust, in these instances?

It is noteworthy that when Yaakov struggled with the angel of Esav, it is said vayeiavek ish imo, and a man wrestled with him. The Gemara in Chullin 91a states that the angel of Esav appeared to Yaakov like a Torah scholar. Perhaps the meaning of the Gemara is that the angel of Esav attempted to convince Yaakov that although one must follow the mitzvos that are stated explicitly in the Torah, one can be more lenient regarding the rabbinical prohibitions. This is alluded to in the word vayeiavek, which is derived from the word avak, dust.

For this reason the Gemara refers to certain rabbinical prohibitions with the term avak, to allude to the idea that it is the evil inclination, a.k.a. the angel of Esav, who is attempting to convince the person that he can be lenient regarding rabbinical prohibitions.

We must adhere to the dictum recorded in Pirkei Avos 1:4, where it is said vehevay misabak bafar ragleihem, literally translated as sit in the dust of their feet, and homiletically interpreted that one should adhere to even the less stringent rabbinical prohibitions.
Pirkei Avot 1:4:יוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה וְיוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵּית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בַצָּמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם:

Yosei ben Yoezer, man of Tsreida, and Yosei ben Yochanan, man of Jerusalem, received from him. Yosei ben Yoezer says: May your house be a meeting house for Sages, and be dirty in the dust of their feet, and be drinking with thirst their words.

Understanding Torah

Reb Yochanan Sofer writes that he remembers when he began to attend to his grandfather Reb Shimon Sofer zt”l for several hours during the day, the remaining hours that he utilized for learning were tremendously productive. In only a short period of time, he was able to understand the depths of the Gemora and the Rishonim; something that would normally have taken him days on end. This matter astounded him until he found that which the Chasam Sofer wrote: One who gazes at his Rebbe will merit a pure understanding of Torah. This can be derived from the possuk in Yeshaya [30:20]: And your eyes shall see your teacher. This is the explanation of our Gemora: Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: If a teacher prevents his student from serving him, it is as if he is withholding kindness from him. The greatest kindness that a teacher can grant to his student is the ability to grasp the intricacies and greatness of Torah.

Daf Notes


Fighting on the Borders

The Gemora had stated: And from what moment is it considered that a propriety act has been performed? It is as soon as he walks upon the borders of the field.

The Kidinover Rebbe used to say: The primary focus of a person’s life – one that he is obligated to exert himself over – is to ensure that all of his deeds, actions and thoughts are for the sake of Heaven, and that he does not want to benefit from physical matters. And although this is a quite difficult task, nevertheless, if one at least makes an attempt at this, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, recognizes his intent, it is something very dear and precious to Him.

The Rebbe continues: Merely knowing chassidus is not sufficient, for when it comes to a test, it remains in his knowledge and in his brain, but it does not lead to any positive action.

This is what Chazal are hinting at when they said: And from what moment is it considered that a propriety act has been performed? It is as soon as he walks upon the borders of the field. The borders of the field is referring to the permitted desires of this world. When is it regarded as a person has conquered his desires? It is when he has firmly established that even those pleasures that are permitted to him, he will not indulge in, and if he accomplishes that, he has conquered and acquired the entire field.

This is what is said in the lamentations on Tisha b’Av: All those chasing after us have reached between the borders, for the Evil Inclination is battling on the fringes, and once man is ensnared in his grasp in the permitted pleasures of the world, it is a small step away from those that are forbidden.

May we merit the light of recognizing this and taking action to lead the life that God wants from us.

Daf for Sunday, Tzom Gedalya – Chagigah 20

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 Mari proves from the Mishna that chulin which was made according to the tahara standard of Kodesh (pious people would treat chulin in their house as if it was kodoshim in order to train the members of their family with these stringencies) is regarded as if it was Kodesh itself.


The Gemora cites a braisa which presents two opinions regarding this: The Tanna Kamma maintains that the chulin is treated as regular chulin. Rabbi Elozar the son of Rabbi Tzadok holds that it is treated as if it would be terumah (not as strict as Kodesh). (19b – 20a)


Rabbi Yonasan ben Elozar said: If a scarf fell off of him (Parush – one who eats chulin in a state of purity), and he asked his friend to give it to him and he does, it is regarded as if it was tamei (items can remain tahor as long as they are being guarded from tumah, however, if there is a diversion of attention, the item is deemed to be tamei).


Rabbi Yonasan ben Amram said: If someone intended to take out his weekday clothes and he mistakenly took out his Shabbos clothes, the clothes are considered tamei.


Rabbi Elozar ben Tzadok said: Two women chaveiros (their husband’s or father’s are extremely careful in regards to the laws of tumah and tahara) whose clothing became exchanged with each other in a bathhouse; Rabbi Akiva ruled that their clothing is tamei.


The Gemora asks: Items that are guarded under the assumption that they are a different item remain tahor (it is not regarded as hesech hadaas – a diversion of attention); why was the clothing considered tamei?


Rabbi Yirmiyah answers: We are referring to a case where the clothes were being guarded from something that would render them tamei, but not from something that would render them pasul. (The term “tamei” describes something that it itself is contaminated and it can transmit tumah to another item; “pasul” means that it itself is contaminated, but it cannot transmit tumah to another item.) The Gemora proves that there is such a concept of guarding something from becoming tamei, but not guarding it from becoming pasul.


The Gemora asks on the rulings mentioned above: Why are the clothes regarded as tamei when they should be considered only pasul? Furthermore, the Gemora proves that a mistaken impression on the item does not render it tamei because it is still being guarded; why should the clothing be regarded as tamei when they were constantly being guarded?


The Gemora answers: Rabbi Elozar ben Tzadok’s ruling (regarding the two women in the bathhouse) is understandable because it can be said that each woman thinks to herself that the other woman is the wife of an am haaretz and she therefore diverts her attention away from guarding her clothes.


Rabbi Yonasan ben Amram’s ruling (regarding the fellow who mistakenly took out his Shabbos clothes) is also understandable because one is generally more scrupulous regarding his garments that are used on Shabbos than those that are used on weekdays and since he thinks that these garments are his weekday clothing, he guards it less and that is considered a diversion of his attention.


The Gemora does not understand Rabbi Yonasan ben Elozar’s ruling because the owner should be able to guard the scarf even while it is in his friend’s hand.


Rabbi Yochanan answers: There is a principle that one does not guard something that is in his friend’s hand and therefore the scarf is considered tamei. (20a – 20b)




The Mishna states: The Chachamim imposed various stringencies to protect kodoshim that that did not impose for terumah.


1) We may immerse utensils inside of other utensils in a mikvah for terumah, but not for kodesh.
2) Different parts of the utensil are considered separate for terumah, but not for kodesh (if one part becomes tamei, the rest of the utensil becomes tamei).


3) One may carry terumah while he is carrying a midras (objects that became tamei when a zav, zavah or niddah place their weight on them – they are classified as an av hatumah and have the ability to contaminate people or utensils), but one may not carry kodesh while carrying a midras.


4) The clothing of those eating terumah is regarded as tumas midras for those that are eating kodoshim.


5) When immersing garments for kodesh, one must first untie them and dry them, but for terumah one may immerse them while they are knotted (and/or wet).


6) Utensils that were completed in a state of tahara still require immersion for kodesh, but not for terumah.


7) A utensil combines all of its contents together for kodesh (if one piece becomes tamei, they all become tamei even if they are not touching each other), but not for terumah.


8) Tumah of kodesh extends to a fourth level (revii), while that of terumah extends only to a third level (shlishi).


9) Regarding terumah, if one’s hand becomes tamei, the other hand remains tahor, while for kodesh, one must immerse both hands, because one hand contaminates the other for kodesh but not for terumah.


10) One may eat dry terumah foods with hands that are tamei, but not kodesh foods.


11) An onein (one whose close relative passed away and has not been buried yet), a mechusar kippurim (one who is lacking atonement) require immersion for kodesh, but not for terumah. (20b – 21a)





*** Our Gemara states that one must be more scrupulous regarding utensils that are used on Shabbos than those that are used on weekdays.

The Mabit writes that the Gemora states that one is required to purify himself prior to a festival by immersing in a mikveh. The Mabit wonders why one would not also be required to immerse himself prior to Shabbos? The Mabit answers that one is not required to immerse in a mikveh prior to Shabbos because the sanctity of Shabbos will cleanse the person from any impurities.


Reb Yosef Engel questions this answer, as our Gemara clearly states that one is required to be more scrupulous on Shabbos regarding matters of impurity.


*** The Gemora states that a person cannot watch something that is in his friend’s hand. We need to be certain that the utensil did not become tamei; only the holder can provide us with that assurance.


The Minchas Chinuch (10) proves from here that whenever intention is needed, the one who is performing the action must be the one who has the intention. Therefore, he rules that a non-Jew, mute or minor cannot knead the dough for matzah even if there will be someone else watching. Only the person kneading the dough can be certain that it did not become chametz.


Other Acharonim disagree and differentiate between those with intellect and those without. If the person has his own intellect, then he cannot be watched; however, a mute or a minor that have no intellect on their own may be watched.


*** The Mishna states: If one hand became tamei, the other is tamei as well; but only regarding kodoshim and not in respect for terumah.

The Minchas Chinuch (106) writes that if a Kohen loses concentration regarding one of his hands during the Bais HaMikdosh service; he has to sanctify that hand again, but not the other hand.


The distinction is that the mitzvah for the Kohen to wash his hands and feet prior to performing the sacrificial service is a Biblical one; our Mishna is discussing Rabbinical stringencies that were applied to kodoshim.




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


Daf Notes Chagigah Daf 16

Daf Notes is currently being dedicated to the neshamah of

Tzvi Gershon Ben Yoel (Harvey Felsen) o”h


The Gemora had stated that Rabbi Akiva entered Pardes; he ascended in peace and he left in peace. Upon him, it is written: Draw me, we will run after you. And Rabbi Akiva as well, the ministering angels sought to push him away; but the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: Let this elder be, for he is worthy to avail himself of My honor.


The Gemora asks: What verse did he expound (so that he knew not to look towards the Place of the Divine Presence)?


Rabbah bar Rav Huna said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: It is written: and Hashem approached with some of the holy myriads, which is interpreted to mean that He is a sign amongst His myriads (indicating that he should not look in that direction).


Alternatively, Rabbi Avahu says, it is written: dagul meirvavah, surrounded with myriad angels, which is interpreted to mean that He was distinguished in His myriads.


Rish Lakish provides another source for Rabbi Akiva being protected is because it is said: HaShem, Master of Legions, is His Name. This is interpreted to mean that He is a master amongst His hosts.


Alternatively, Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this is derived from the verse that states: “HaShem is not in the wind!” [Eliyahu was told.] After the wind came an earthquake. “Hashem is not in the earthquake.” After the earthquake came a fire. “Hashem is not in the fire.” After the fire came a still, thin sound. [Prior to that it is said] and behold HaShem was passing. (16a)


The Gemora cites a braisa: Demons are akin to angels in three matters and they are akin to humans in three matters. Demons have wings, they fly from one end of the world to the other, and they know what is destined to be in the future.


The Gemora interrupts: Can it possibly be that they know the future (it cannot, for even angels do not know the future)?


Rather it means that they hear from behind the barrier like the angels. The demons are akin to humans as they eat and drink, procreate, and die like humans. (16a)


The braisa continues: Man is akin to the angels in three matters and man is akin to animals in three matters. Man is akin to angels in that he has intelligence, he walks upright, and he speaks the Holy Tongue. Man is akin to animals in that he eats and drinks, procreates, and emits excrement like an animal. (16a)


The Mishna had stated: Whoever analyzes the following four things, it would have been better if he never entered this world: [What is above and below (the Heavenly angels), what is before and after (beyond the universe).]


The Gemora asks: It is understandable why one should not analyze what is above, below and after the world; but regarding what was before, what is the concern? Whatever was, was (already; and what difference would there be if he would inquire about it)?


Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elozar both said: Discussing what occurred prior to the creation of the world is akin to a king who instructed his servants to build a palace on a dung heap. Subsequent to the building, the king does not want to be reminded of the dung heap. (16a)


The Mishnah stated that if one does not concern himself with the honor of his Creator, then it is better that he had not been created.


Rabbi Abba explains that this refers to one who gazes at a rainbow. Rav Yosef maintains that this refers to one who sins privately.


The Gemora cites the Scriptural source proving that one who gazes at a rainbow impinges on the honor of his Creator. It is written:  As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brilliance all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Hashem.


Rav Yosef had said that this refers to one who sins privately. This is in accordance with what Rabbi Yitzchak said, for Rabbi Yitzchak said: One who sins in private is akin to one who has pushed the fete, so to speak, of the Divine Presence, as it is written: Thus said Hashem: the Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.


The Gemora asks: But Rabbi Il’a the Elder said that if one sees that his Evil Inclination is overwhelming him, he should travel to a place where he is not known and he should don black clothing and act as he wishes. This statement implies that sinning in private is not so terrible. The Gemora resolves this contradiction by answering that if one can subdue his Evil Inclination and does not, it is as if he has pushed away, so to speak, the feet of the Divine Presence. One who cannot subdue his Evil Inclination, however, is better off sinning in private. (16a)


One who gazes at a rainbow, at the Nasi, who is the Jewish leader, and one who gazes at the kohanim when the Bais HaMikdash was standing and the kohanim uttered the Ineffable Name, his eyesight will become dimmed. (16a)


The stones and beams of ones house will testify against him for the sins that he commits in private. Furthermore, ones soul will testify against him, and even the two angels who normally escort a person will testify against him. Ones own limbs will also testify against him.  (16a)

The Mishna returns to the subject regarding the sacrifices which are brought during the festival. Yosef ben Yoezer maintains that although one may offer a sacrifice during the festival, he may not perform semichah, leaning on the animal. The reason for this prohibition is because leaning on the animal is deemed to be a shevus (similar to riding on an animal), a rabbinic injunction, and one cannot violate a rabbinical injunction on the festival. Yosef ben Yochanan holds that one can perform the semichah during the festival.


Yehoshua ben Perachya maintains that one should not perform semichah during the festival. Nitai Hearbeili holds that one can perform the semichah during the festival.


Yehudah ben Tabbai maintains that one should not perform semichah during the festival. Shimon ben Shetach holds that one can perform the semichah during the festival.


Shemaye maintains that one can perform semichah during the festival. Avtalyon holds that one should not perform the semichah during the festival.


Hillel and Menachem did not argue regarding this matter.


Menachem left the Sanhedrin and Shammai replaced him. Shammai maintains that one should not perform semichah during the festival. Hillel holds that one can perform the semichah during the festival.


The first of each of the aforementioned pairs was the Nasi and the second one was the Av Beis Din (the head of the court). (16a – 16b)


The Gemora cites a braisa: The three Tannaim of the first pairs who said not to perform semichah and the two from the last pairs who said not to perform semichah were the Nesiim. The second one listed from all these pairs were the Av Beis Din. These are the words of Rabbi Meir. The Chachamim said: Yehudah ben Tabbai was the Av Beis Din and Shimon ben Shetach was the Nasi. (The Mishna was going according to Rabbi Meir.) (16b)


The Gemora asks: Who is the Tanna of the following braisa? Yehudah ben Tabbai said: I shall see consolation if I did not execute a single eid zomeim (when witnesses offer testimony and other witnesses refute them claiming that the first set of witnesses could not possible testify regarding the alleged crime since they were together with them at a different location at the precise time that they claimed to witness the crime somewhere else; The Torah teaches us that we believe the second pair in this instance; the first witnesses are called “eidim zomemim” “scheming witnesses,” and they receive the exact punishment that they endeavored to have meted out to the one they accused) in order to disprove the viewpoint maintained by the Sadducees who held that eidim zomemin are not executed unless the defendant was executed because of them (according to the Chachamim, this law only applies as long as the accused was not punished already).


Shimon ben Shatach heard of this and told him: I shall see consolation if you did not execute an innocent person since we have learned that eidim zomemim can only be punished if both of the witnesses are found to be lying and not only one.


Yehudah ben Tabbai immediately accepted upon himself never to issue a ruling unless he was in the presence of Shimon ben Shetach (in order to be corrected by him).


For all the remaining days of Yehudah ben Tabbai’s life, he would prostrate himself on the grave of the person that he had mistakenly killed (begging for forgiveness). His voice could be heard but the people thought that it was the cry of the man whose blood he had innocently shed. Yehudah ben Tabbai said: I will prove it to you that it is my voice, for after I die, you will not hear the crying any longer. Rav Acha the son of Rava said to Rav Ashi: Perhaps the crying was from the one who was executed, but after Yehudah ben Tabbai died, he stopped crying because he was appeased or because the Heavenly Court administered justice against him.


It is evident from this incident that initially Yehudah ben Tabbai issued halachic rulings even while Shimon ben Shetach was near him. The Gemora asks: This is understandable according to Rabbi Meir who maintains that Yehudah ben Tabbai was the Nasi since the Nasi is not required to consult with the Av Beis Din prior to issuing a ruling; however, according to the Chachamim, wouldn’t it be considered disrespectful for the Av Beis Din (Yehudah ben Tabbai) to issue halachic rulings without consulting with Shimon ben Shetach (the Nasi). This proves that the author of the braisa is indeed Rabbi Meir.


The Gemora rejects this proof and states that Yehudah ben Tabbai (the Av Beis Din) never issued rulings without Shimon ben Shetach;   Yehudah ben Tabbai resolved that he would never even join in a ruling unless Shimon ben Shetach was present. (16b)






*** The Gemora states that the demons can hear what is being announced from behind the Partition in the same manner as the ministering angels.

The question is asked: If they can hear from behind the Partition, what is the purpose of the Partition?


A possible answer is that it is there in order to prevent them from seeing.


*** Why was the Satmar Rebbe extremely particular that the beds should be placed next to a wall and not in the middle of the bedroom, even the beds that children sleep on?


*** The Gemora states: If a person feels that his evil inclination is overpowering him, he should travel to a place where he will not be recognized, dress in black and there he could do whatever his heart desires; this way, he will not be desecrating Hashem’s name.


How should this Gemora be understood?


Tosfos cites two explanations: There is the literal interpretation of the Gemora and also that these activities will result in deflating his desires and will ultimately prevent him from sinning.


*** The Gemora states: The stones located in a person’s house will testify against him if he sins; the beams of his house will testify against him. The Chachamim say: His soul will testify against him. Rabbi Zreika said: The two ministering angels that accompany a person will testify against him. Others say: A person’s limbs will testify against him.


Are all these opinions arguing with each other? What is the significance of all these testimonies?




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

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