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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Resh Lakish’

Q & A: Torah In English (Part I)

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004
QUESTION: Is one allowed to publish Torah discussions in any language other than in the original Hebrew?
A Reader
Wilkes Barre, PA
ANSWER: Your question reminds me of comments made by my uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, founder of The Jewish Press, whose Torah columns graced these pages.He told me how, years ago, with the demise of the old Yiddish-language Morgen Journal, he was approached by Rabbi Chaim Uri Lipshitz of Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath, on behalf of Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva, asking him to publish a new Yiddish newspaper.

My uncle’s response was that his field of expertise was in the English language, and besides, English was quickly replacing Yiddish as the spoken and written language of the Orthodox community. Thus, he would only consider publishing an English-language newspaper for the community.

The Jewish Press, whose raison d’?tre was to promote Torah, love of Israel, and news of the American, Israeli, and world Jewish communities, became an instant hit. It also became a source of Torah for many in the community and reached out to those not yet reconnected to their great heritage. Countless Jews testify to the fact that they owe their religious observance to The Jewish Press.

Today there is no dearth of Torah-related material published in English. Great credit must be given to the numerous publishers who have issued a wealth of Judaica in English, particularly ArtScroll-Mesorah, whose efforts focus on Torah and Talmud.

The question you ask, whether one is allowed to publish Torah matters in any language other than the original Hebrew, is an important one. We will bring numerous sources showing that this may, indeed, be done.

The Talmud (Temura 14b) states: “But did not R. Abba, son of R. Chiyya b. Abba, say in the name of R. Yochanan, ‘Those who put down in writing the Oral Law are [punished] like those who burn the Torah, and he who learns from them does not receive a heavenly reward’?

“R. Yehuda b. Nachmani, the meturgeman (the public translator) of Resh Lakish, gave the following explanation on the verse (Exodus 34:27), ‘Ketov lecha et ha’devarim ha’eleh ki al pi ha’devarim ha’eleh… – Write these words for yourself, for according to these [oral] words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ This teaches that laws received as oral traditions may not be recited from written texts (i.e., you are not allowed to commit them to writing), and those that are written [the Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hagiographa, which together are called the Tanach] may not be recited orally (that is, from memory).”

The Gemara continues, “They learned in the academy of R. Yishmael: ‘Write these words for yourself’ implies that these you may write, but you may not write halachot – oral laws.” The Gemara now asks whether a hiddush, a new interpretation, is different, as we find that R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish would study from books of Agadta on the Sabbath and they would expound on the verse in Psalms (119:126), “Et la’asot l’Hashem, heferu Toratecha – When it is a [critical] time to do for Hashem [when so needed], we may void Torah [rules].” They explained: “It is far better that we uproot [a] Torah [rule] than that the [entire] Torah be forgotten in Israel.”

When the Gemara poses the query whether a new interpretation is different, Rashi (ad loc., s.v. chad’ta) notes that indeed they had not known how to answer [difficulties in] certain baraitot and they were now able to do so; or, as in the case discussed by this Gemara, the libations [on the altar] are compared via hekesh to shelamim sacrifices that are offered only during the day. But when the libations are offered alone, they may be brought even at night. Rashi gives another reason – because there is a possibility that a halacha might be forgotten.

The Maharsha (Gittin 61) explains that the Oral Law is not to be written down, except when it is impossible [to remember], and it is “a time to do for Hashem.” The Maharsha comments that a person should not rely exclusively on the written text (which is always available), for that may be conducive for him not to study Torah any longer.

It is certainly impossible to write down all the matters that scholars speak about while learning Torah. Therefore, in earlier generations, whose understanding was far greater than ours, the Sages ruled that we were not to write down these oral laws so that we would constantly review our mishnayot and Talmud, and thus always study them in order to perform them.

Today, however, as the Maharsha explains, “when the heart [i.e. the understanding] of men is weakened and it is impossible to remember all by learning orally from one’s teacher and, just the opposite, much is forgotten through such oral study – ‘then it is a time to do for Hashem.’ In order to ensure that the laws learned orally will be performed, they must be written down in spite of the fact that we are voiding a Torah law, because the student will not necessarily review his lessons constantly and will rely on the written text.”

There are additional sources for writing Torah matters in English or in the vernacular. The verse (Proverbs 22:6) states, “Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenah – Train the youth according to his way, and even when he grows old he will not depart from it.”

Metzudat David explains in his commentary (ad loc.): Start to get the youth used to the ways of service to Hashem according to his wisdom and capabilities, whether they are limited or vast. Thus, when the youth is accustomed to serve Hashem, his habits will not desert him when he becomes older.”

What is implied, according to Metzudat David, is that instruction must result in the subject matter being grasped by the child. Thus, if English is the language that the youth understands, he should be taught in that language.

We also find (Sotah 32a-b, Mishna) that certain texts may be recited in any language, such as Parashat Sotah, the viddui (confessional) upon presenting the tithes, and the recital of the Shema and the Grace after Meals. Others, however, such as the declaration upon presenting the First Fruits (bikkurim), the text of chalitza, the Blessings and the Curses, and the Priestly Blessings must be recited only in Hebrew. Following the discussion of the Blessings and Curses, which were to be said upon the entry of Bnei Yisrael into Canaan, the Mishna states: “. . .After that they brought the stones, built the altar, and plastered it with plaster, and inscribed thereon all the words of the Torah in 70 languages, as stated (Deuteronomy 27:8), ['Ve[k]atavta al ha’avanim et kol divrei haTorah hazot] baer heitev – [You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah], well clarified’.”

Rashi (infra 35b s.v. “Hei’ach lamdu ummot haolam”) explains that the reason the Torah was inscribed on these stones in 70 languages was that the nations of the world, who will be held accountable for not accepting and studying the Torah, will not have the excuse that they could not learn the Torah because it was [given] only in Hebrew.

The Maharsha (32a) explains that the Torah’s idiomatic expression “baer heitev” means to explain it in 70 languages, i.e., to clarify the Torah to each and every one ["well clarified," as translated by the ArtScroll Stone Chumash]. The Maharsha cites the Ram, who explains that the word heitev in its “tzeruf” – the grand total of the subtotals (of the numerical equivalents) of progressively larger initial sequences – is 70: heh is 5; heh and yud is 15; heh, yud, and tet is 24; and heh, yud, tet, and bet is 26.

(To be continued)

Q & A: Adding To The Rabbi’s Discussion (Conclusion)

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
QUESTION: Upon concluding the Shabbat morning services at our local synagogue, we have an informal kiddush during which our rabbi discusses the Parasha of the week. At the conclusion of his talk he opens an informal discussion, inviting questions or comments. Occasionally I will make a brief comment relating to the rabbi’s talk, sometimes quoting an applicable passage from the Torah. Recently a friend told me that it was not proper for me, a lay person, to comment even briefly by directly quoting the Torah, as quotes should be stated exclusively by the rabbi.
I believe, however, that lay people are to be encouraged to study and quote relevant passages from the Torah. Additionally, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) encourages us to “… teach it (Torah) to your children, to speak of it in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you arise…” Thus, it seems the Shema is urging us all, including lay persons, to quote the Torah. My rabbi told me he was not bothered by my quoting Torah verses during these discussions, but I would also like to know your opinion.
Name Withheld by Request
ANSWER: We began our discussion last week with the comment in Yoreh De’ah (242:31) that a scholar is not to speak (during a Torah discourse) in the presence of a greater scholar, even if the former has not learned anything from the latter. This is due to the tremendous honor we accord Torah scholars, and we can understand the obligations a lay person must have toward his rabbi. We quoted the verse, “Lo yamush sefer haTorah hazeh mipicha ve’hagita bo yomam va’layla…” (Joshua 1:8). This was part of the instruction Joshua received from G-d. Radak (ad loc.) examines whether this instruction was intended exclusively for Joshua or for all Jews. He explains the term ‘ve’hagita’ as a requirement to have the words of the Torah in our hearts and minds always. In that case, any conversation with another Jew would inevitably contain quotes from the Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 95:b) underscores the honor due to a scholar, an honor the scholar has the right to demand. Given the constant thoughts about Torah one is to have according to the instructions to Joshua, we were left with the question of how one converses with a scholar without violating his honor.* * *

Our Sages provide us with a formula in Tractate Avot (6:5-6) on the acquisition of Torah knowledge. R. Shimon (Avot 4:12) refers to the three crowns of Israel: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The crown of Torah is available to each and every Jew, the crown of priesthood is restricted to the progeny of Aaron, and the crown of royalty is limited to the anointed kings of the Davidic dynasty.

The Mishna (6:5) states, “Torah is even greater than priesthood or royalty, for royalty is acquired along with thirty distinctions [described in Sefer Ha'Aruch under "melech"], and priesthood along with 24 gifts (which are detailed in Tractate Bava Kamma 110b). Torah, however, is acquired through 48 qualities” – which are:

Study, attentive listening, articulate speech, intuitive understanding, discernment, awe, reverence, humility, joy, purity, ministering to scholars, close association with colleagues, sharp discussion with pupils, deliberation, [knowledge of] Scripture and of Mishna, limited business activity, limited wordly matters, limited pleasure, limited sleep, limited chatter, limited laughter, slowness to anger, a good heart, faith in the Sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one’s place, being happy with one’s lot, making a protective fence around one’s words, claiming no credit for oneself, being beloved, loving the Omnipresent [Hashem], loving mankind, loving righteous ways, loving the ways of justice, loving reproofs, keeping far from honor, not being arrogant with one’s learning, not enjoying decision-making, sharing his fellow’s yoke, judging him favorably, setting him on the truthful course, leading him unto peace, thinking deliberately in his study, asking and answering, listening and contributing to the discussion, learning in order to teach, learning in order to practice, making his teacher wiser, pondering over what he has learned, and quoting a thing in the name of the one who said it. Thus we learn that whoever repeats something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world, for it is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai.”

Among these numerous methods of acquiring Torah a few stand out – “Close association with colleagues” and “sharp discussion with pupils”: these two very clearly refer to ongoing discussions of Torah as crucial to its acquisition. “Asking and answering” and “listening and contributing to the discussion” are even higher levels where one is able to resolve difficulties that arise from the discussion.

Regarding “listening and contributing to the discussion,” Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “shome’a”) explains that “he listens to all that his teacher says to him, and he adds to it, but does not negate any of his teacher’s words.” This seems to address your question. We also find the quality of “making his teacher wiser.” This is clearly self-explanatory. The student, through discussions with his teacher, adds to his teacher’s knowledge, as we find in the Gemara (Perek Hasocher et Hapo’alim, Bava Metzia 84a): When R. Shimon b. Lakish [who was a disciple and colleague of R. Yochanan] died, R. Yochanan was grief-stricken. The Sages, upon seeing that he was deeply affected and kept away from the house of study, decided to send a student to console him, and thus cajole him back to the house of study. They sent R. Eleazar b. Pedat, who was uniquely sharp in his studies.

He sat before R. Yochanan and after every statement of R. Yochanan he would immediately remark, ‘I have found a baraita that supports your view.’ It was obvious to all the Sages and to R. Eleazar himself that they hoped that R. Eleazar would be accepted as the new disciple in place of Resh Lakish.

R. Yochanan was not satisfied with this student and exclaimed, “You think you are like the son of Lakish. When I made a statement, the son of Lakish used to ask 24 questions to which I would give 24 replies, and from that the Torah study would develop and spread. You, on the other hand, keep offering me support from a baraita; don’t I know that my statements are correct?!” He then proceeded to tear his clothes and cry aloud, exclaiming, “Where are you, O son of Lakish, where are you, O son of Lakish?” until he lost his senses. The Sages then prayed for mercy from Heaven on his behalf and he died.

We see that if the best student, R. Eleazar b. Pedat, does not challenge his teacher, he is not very useful to him. But Resh Lakish, through his brilliant questions and challenges, had brought out the best in R. Yochanan.

R. Yosef Caro lists – and the Rema elucidates – many things that are required in the behavior of a student toward his teacher, such as the honor he has to show him (Yoreh De’ah 242). We also find the following (242:32): If one’s primary teacher (rav muv’hak) from whom one has learned the most forgives the honor due him in regard to any or all of the previously listed matters, from any or all of his students – his honor is forgiven. However, even though his honor is forgiven, it is still incumbent upon the student to show him honor. (The Rema adds, “and surely not to embarrass him.”)

This halacha is based on Tractate Kiddushin (32a-b), where the Gemara compares the Torah teacher to Hashem, for it is stated (Exodus 13:21), “VeHashem holech lifneihem yomam valayla … – And Hashem went before [the Children of Israel] day and night [when they left Egypt] …” – which means that Hashem, master of the universe and of the Torah, clearly forgave His honor. Thus, one who teaches Hashem’s Torah may surely do so.

Your friend is critical of your quoting passages from the Torah in the course of your conversation with the rabbi. This argument is not totally without merit, as we find in the Talmud (Temura 14b): “R. Abba b. Chiya b. Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan, ‘Those who write halachot [laws] are considered as if they are burning the Torah.’ Rashi (s.v. “Kesorfei Torah”), obviously referring to the Gemara (Shabbos 115a), explains this, in accord with R. Huna, to mean that we do not save such writings of the Oral Law from a fire on the Sabbath.

Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 23:26) rules accordingly that Torah matters written in any language other than Hebrew may not be saved from a fire on the Sabbath. Thus putting it in writing is considered similar to burning it. Those who learn from these written halachot do not receive any Heavenly reward.

R. Yosef Caro (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 334:12), however, disputes this rule of Rambam. He states, as does the conclusion of the Gemara in Temura (as we will see), that we save any written Torah matters, in any language, from a fire. Thus the Halacha follows R. Chisda even though, usually, when R. Chisda argues with R. Huna, R. Chisda’s view is discounted.

R. Yehuda b. Nachmani, the “interpreter” of Resh Lakish (it was the style that a sage would deliver his lecture and another appointed scholar would repeat and explain the lecture to the masses), said that while the verse (Exodus 34:27) opens with, “[Vayomer Hashem el Moshe] Ketov lecha et ha’devarim ha’eleh… - [Hashem said to Moshe], Write for yourself these words…” it concludes with, “… ki al pi ha’devarim ha’eleh [karatti it'cha brit ve'et yisrael] – For according to these words [I have sealed a covenant with you and with Israel].”

We derive from this verse that you are not allowed “to say” in written form matters which are oral, “be’al peh,” and matters which are in written form may not be said orally. This refers to the written Torah – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and Hagiographa – which may not be recited orally (that is, without looking at the text), and the Oral Law – the Mishna and the Talmud – which may not be put down in writing but only studied orally.

The Gemara now offers a proof: “We learned in the study hall of R. Yishmael, ‘Write for yourself these words’. These [words of the Torah] you may write, but you may not write halachot - oral laws.”

Others say that a novel halachic matter may be different, for R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish would gaze in the book of Agga’deta (oral traditions) on the Sabbath, and they would expound from the following verse (Psalms 119:126), “Et la’asot L’Hashem, heferu Toratecha – It is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided Your Torah.” [Rashi s.v. "Et la'asot L'Hashem" explains that when a matter is being done to exalt Hashem, it is proper to void a Torah rule]. They were saying that it was better to uproot this Torah rule so that Torah shall not be forgotten in Israel.

As you note, we might have thought that there is a problem not only with your quoting Torah passages orally, but with your rabbi’s encouraging it as well. However, this Gemara teaches us that we utilize all means to further the study and practice of Torah, at times in contravention of established rules.

May we wish you and your friend to continue to drink with great thirst the words of Torah as you study with your rabbi.

Q & A: On The ‘Evergreen Tree’ In A Jewish Home

Wednesday, January 28th, 2004
QUESTION: I am active in kiruv work in a neighborhood where there are many Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, these people were kept ignorant of their Jewish heritage.
Lately I’ve noticed a new phenomenon. At this time of year, many of them seem to be bringing evergreen trees into their homes. They claim that they always did this in Russia in celebration of the “winter festival”.
What should my attitude be as a kiruv professional?
Name Withheld
Brooklyn, NY
ANSWER: Your work is vital, and by all means you must keep the channels of communication open and explain to them, individually or as a group, that this is not appropriate. Contrary to what you refer to as being a new phenomenon, this problem has been with us for many years.My uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, was asked this same question thirty years ago, before the latest large immigration of Russian Jews to America.

His answer specified: “It is prohibited for a Jew to use any religious object or even a symbol related to another religion on their holiday. Christmas is a day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.

“Different customs and symbols are observed in various countries. Such symbols as a star, a yule log, mistletoe, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, etc., are related to the Christmas holiday. That holiday has always been, and is, a religious festival but many people have made it into a secular holiday because of its impact upon industry and commerce, when millions of people buy products of all kinds as gifts. Merchants sell more of almost every kind of merchandise during this season than at any other time of the year. Stores in the United States and other countries depend on Christmas shoppers for a fourth of the sales they make during the entire year.

“But this does not detract from the fact that it is a Christian holiday and we must not use any of its symbols.

“The Gemara (Avoda Zara 6b) tells us that a certain official once sent to Rabbi Judah Nesiah II (who lived in the middle of the 3rd century) a Caesarean denar (a coin engraved with the image of the Emperor in commemoration of his coronation, as many emperors considered themselves gods to be worshiped) on his festival day. Resh Lakish happened to sit before him. Rabbi Judah asked him, ‘What should I do? If I accept the coin, he will go to praise the idols for it; if I don’t accept it, he will be displeased.’

“‘Take it,’ answered Resh Lakish, ‘and drop it into a well in the messenger’s presence.’

“But this will displease him all the more,’ said Rabbi Judah.

“I mean that you should do it as if by accident,’ Resh Lakish replied. (This way he will not be angry and you will not have accepted a gift bearing a symbol of their religion on their holiday).”

My uncle concluded that it amazed him that we seek to follow other people’s practices when we ourselves have many beautiful holidays, such as Chanukah, Sukkot, etc., and our religion is the source of all worship of G-d.

Indeed, our Father Abraham, who came to the unusual understanding of his Creator at age three (Nedarim 32a), is today the undisputed source of true belief in G-d. Other nations subverted that belief, in contrast to Abraham who destroyed his father Terach’s idols because they were the vehicle that fostered the denial of G-d’s existence (Bereishit Rabbah, Parashat Noach; Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Noach).

As stated by Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 7:10-11), idol worship trees such as the ashera – pagan symbols adapted by Christianity – are a violation of the prohibition of idol worship. A Jew is forbidden to derive any pleasure from it, much less possess anything that is part of it. The only way we can combat lack of Torah practice and at the same time promote the removal of all vestiges of idol worship in any form is by providing a true Torah education for every Jewish child and adult.

This was how Abraham, who was entrusted by his father to watch and run his idol “shop,” sought to prevent his customers from purchasing and worshipping idols. He tried to explain logically to the customers the futility of the idols.

You are now in the same situation Abraham was. Just as Abraham’s wisdom, patience, and caring were rewarded with a great nation that would follow his beliefs, so may you be rewarded for the merit of seeking to rescue his children and restore them to the true belief in Hashem that their fathers sought for them.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-on-the-evergreen-tree-in-a-jewish-home/2004/01/28/

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