Friday, June 05, 2009
I have always said that when learning Gemara, it is worthwhile to look up the sources and learn the entire amud.
President Obama quoted the Talmud (Gittin 59b) as saying “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace”. The statement is based on the words of King Solomon (Proverbs 3:17): “And all of it’s way’s are peace”. (Of course, the president could have just quoted Proverbs, but he preferred to quote the Oral law which is considered uniquely Jewish).
The Gemara in question actually quotes this verse in the process of explaining why we don’t give Kohanim the second Aliya.
I once approached Rabbi Nota Greenblatt Shlita with an interesting discrepancy:
We know that if a Yisroel got the Kohein Aliyah there would be no need to call a Cohen for the second Aliya.
Yet, if the first Aliya was given to a Kohein it is forbidden to give the second Aliyah to a different Kohein because People might think that the first Kohein was no good. I found this puzzling because the halacha is that even if the first Kohein WAS no good we wouldn’t have called up a second one. The only problem is that people will THINK that you called the second Kohein because there was a problem with the first.
Rabbi Greenblatt explained that whether a person has really been degraded is not the issue. The issue is that they feel degraded.
We find two important examples of this in Parshas Nasso: The Nesi’im thought that they would outdo everyone by contributing last, but when they missed their chance to contribute they were criticized for their laziness. The innocent passerby had nothing to do with the guilt of the Adulterous woman, but he is told to be become a Nazir all the same. We don’t care what was meant; we deal with what happened.
My mother used to always make us watch Mr. Safrin stuff his mouth with a napkin. Sometimes he just couldn’t stop talking and there were things can just couldn’t be said. “Whether you mean to hurt him or not”, Mr Safrin taught us, “He will cry”.
We spend hours trying to justify our remarks, actions and comments, but it Doesn’t Matter. Even if I am indisputably in the right and the other is being totally unreasonable, the facts remain the same: Somebody is hurt because of something that I said.
The Talmud tells the story of Reb Rechumi who would study all year and come home only on Erev Yom Kippur. One Year, Reb Ruchumi was too engrossed in learning and neglected to come home. Reb Rechumi’s wife, who waiting for him, finally broke down in disappointment and shed a tear. At that moment the roof which Reb Rechumi was sitting on collapsed and he fell to his death. (Kesuvos 62b).
Of course Mrs. Rechumi had no desire to see her husband die and it obviously didn’t make things easier for her. Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Re Rechumi’s death was inevitable: Mrs’ Rechumi’s tear was a ball of fire, a live grenade, and a loaded weapon created by the deep pain of a holy woman. The Tear had a power and a life of it’s own. The Tear, not the logic or the circumstance, was what killed Reb Rechumi.
The whole of the Torah is for the sake of promoting peace. Whether we are calling people up for Aliyos, Donating money to the Beis Hamikdosh, Observing a Sotah, Talking to ourst friends or engrossed in Torah study, we need to take responsibility, regardless of intent, for the tears we provoke.
(I can’t help but point out that if President Obama had chosen to go over the entire amud he could have brought an excellent example from the Egyptian irrigation systems and etiquette described in the Mishna… and there is is a great Steipler that he could have thrown in for emphasis… not to mention the Reb Chaim in Stencil. Oh well.)