Thursday, June 19, 2008

Does Rashi in Sotah endorse studing Kabbalah specifically?

I chanced across this entertaining blog the other day, Here, for example, is how Rav Na Nach explains an interesting way of learning gemara, which I never encountered in yeshiva:

In a recent post, a lot of fascinating opinions and positions. E.g.
"The second aliyah does in fact discuss how the special status of firstborns in the service of G-d was taken from them and given to the Leviites, which strongly promotes the status of the Nanach, as it has been said that perhaps when Mushiach comes the Nanach will be proclaimed priests."
At any rate, in the same post, he notes how Rashi on the gemara in Sotah 21a stresses the importance of learning kabbalah:
"Someone showed me that in the Daf Yomi, tractate Sota daf 21a where the talmud discusses the supremacy of learning Tora above the fulfillment of all the other commandments, it is clear from the commentary of Rashi that the talmud is referring to study of Sod – the secrets of the Tora (the Talmud brings the verse, great waters can not extinguish the love, and Rashi says that this is Sod), this is truth consistent with Rashi in tractates Sanhedrin and Shabos where he explains that the study of Tora Lishma means that the study is with the intent of reaching the secrets of the Tora."
Now, this is a surprising reading of the gemara, given the context in the gemara. To borrow the Soncino translation of that gemara:
AND ANOTHER FOR THREE YEARS etc. What sort of merit {suspends the efficacy of the mei Sotah}? If I answer merit of [studying] Torah, she is [in the category] of one who is not commanded and fulfils!


Another explanation is: A transgression nullifies [the merit of] a commandment but not of [study of] Torah; as it is said: {Shir haShirim:} Many waters cannot quench love! — Said R. Joseph: A commandment protects and rescues while one is engaged upon it; but when one is no longer engaged upon it, it protects but does not rescue. As for [study of] Torah, whether while one is engaged upon it or not, it protects and rescues. Raba demurred to this: According to this reasoning, did not Doeg and Ahitophel engage upon [study of] Torah; so Why did it not protect them? — But, said Raba, while one is engaged upon [study of] Torah, it protects and rescues, and while one is not engaged upon it, it protects but does not rescue. As for a commandment whether while one is engaged upon it or not, it protects but does not rescue.

Rabina said: It is certainly merit of [the study of] Torah [which causes the water to suspend its effect]; and when you argue that she is in the category of one who is not commanded and fulfils, [it can be answered] granted that women are not so commanded, still when they have their sons taught Scripture and Mishnah and wait for their husbands until they return from the Schools, should they not share [the merit] with them?
Read the gemara in context, starting even earlier than what I cited. If women get vicarious reward for their children's study of Scripture and Mishnah, then it is extremely difficult to claim that only learning kabbalah is intended.

I see the same or similar claim being made here at

במסכת סוטה (דף כ"א): עבירה מכבה מצוה ואין עבירה מכבה תורה, ופירוש רש"י: לכבות את האהבה זו תורה, דכתיב הביאני אל בית היין, ודגלו עלי אהבה, יין סוד, עד כאן לשונו.

ונראה דרש"י בא להשמיענו כדברי רבותינו מתלמידי הבעל שם טוב הקדוש זי"ע, כי מה שכתוב בתורה המאור שבה מחזירו למוטב, לא על פלפולי התורה הנגליות לנו בלבד נאמרו הדברים, דהרי עינינו רואות ההיפך הרבה פעמים בעונותינו הרבים, וכמו שכתוב בזה בספר דרך אמת להה"ק מוהר"ר פייביש מזבריזא זי"ע, וכן בשארי ספרים הקדושים, ובפרט בספרי המעוררים ומלהיבים לבות בני ישראל ללימוד חכמת האמת, וכמו בספר סור מרע ועשה טוב והוספות מהרצ"א זי"ע ודומיהן, עיין שם דעיקר קאי על מי שלומד ומאמין בפנימיות התורה וסודותיה אשר טמונים בתורה, אז יזכה בלימודו לדביקות בהשם יתברך והמאור שבה מחזירו למוטב. וזה שאמר רש"י בפירושו על הך דאין עבירה מכבה תורה דהיינו אהבה שנקרא יין סוד כנזכר.

and though he uses the word בלבד, with the implication that this is in addition to regular learning, the rest of the discussion seems to hold that this is the ikkar.

Does Rashi indeed say such a thing, and if so, how in the world does this work out with the context in the gemara?

Once again, what Rashi specifically said was:

רש"י מסכת סוטה דף כא עמוד א
לכבות את האהבה - זו תורה דכתיב (שיר /השירים/ ב) הביאני אל בית היין ודגלו עלי אהבה יין סוד.

And this was upon the gemara Sotah 21a which said
ד"א עבירה מכבה מצוה ואין עבירה מכבה תורה שנאמר (שיר השירים ח) מים רבים לא יוכלו לכבות את האהבה

I think this is wishful thinking, in order to get Rashi to endorse the importance of this type of study. Indeed, as noted, the gemara just says "Torah" and later in the gemara it is clear this is referring to non-mystical learning.

So how do we explain Rashi?

Rashi is coming to explain the path the derasha is taking. The pasuk from Shir haShirim 8 only stated
ז מַיִם רַבִּים, לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה, וּנְהָרוֹת, לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ; אִם-יִתֵּן אִישׁ אֶת-כָּל-הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ, בָּאַהֲבָה--בּוֹז, יָבוּזוּ לוֹ. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, he would utterly be contemned. {S}
But how do we know that "the love" refers to Torah, in order to establish that עבירה מכבה מצוה ואין עבירה מכבה תורה שנאמר? If I felt like arguing with Rashi, I could establish this derasha differently. I could say simply that what was to be quoted was מַיִם רַבִּים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת, without the final words אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה. Since ain mayim ela Torah, this is telling us that where there is mayim rabim, much Torah, one cannot put out the flame. But that is a digression. Rashi needs to explain how this derasha is functioning. To his reading, the many waters are coming to put out the flame (mentioned in the previous pasuk), but ahava, love cannot be put out. So ahava needs to be established as Torah.

To accomplish this, he looks thematically, within the book of Shir haShirim, to show that this is the nimshal of the mashal of ahavah. And so Rashi turns to Shir haShirim 2:
ד הֱבִיאַנִי אֶל-בֵּית הַיָּיִן, וְדִגְלוֹ עָלַי אַהֲבָה. 4 He hath brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me is love.
And the house of yayin must now somehow equal Torah. To this end, Rashi makes use of another gemara which equates yayin and sod in gematria, and establishes a link between the two.

In Eruvin 65a:
אמר ר' חייא כל המתיישב ביינו יש בו דעת ע' זקנים יין ניתן בע' אותיות וסוד ניתן בע' אותיות נכנס יין יצא סוד
Thus, bet hayayin becomes bet hasod.

That is why Rashi ended with the words יין סוד -- to explain the connection in the derasha, not to establish the specific type of limmud haTorah. Had Rashi wanted to do that, he could have made it clear in the beginning of his statement. He does not. Rather, all he says is זו תורה. He does not say zo Torat hanistar!

But does sod not equal kabbalah? We certainly are conditioned to think of it in these terms, but I do not believe that Rashi did. Do a search for sod in Rashi and see what comes up, and whether he specifically connects sod to kabbalah. The closest he comes, as far as I could find, is on Ketubot 11a:
'What was the purpose of those six adjurations? — Three for the purposes just mentioned and the others, that [the prophets] shall not make known the end, that [the people] shall not delay the end, and that they shall not reveal the secret to the idolaters'.
רש"י מסכת כתובות דף קיא עמוד א
ושלא יגלו את הסוד - אמרי לה סוד העבור ואמרי לה סוד טעמי התורה.
and even there, I am not convinced that טעמי התורה means kabbalah.

Of course one can argue that it is obvious that sof refers to Torat haNistar. However, we see from elsewhere that Rashi considers sod to simply refer to Torah. To cite two Rashis to this effect:
רש"י מסכת מנחות דף עא עמוד א
סודני - תלמידי חכמים על שם סוד ה' ליראיו (תהלים כה) ל"א רב פפא רמי שכרא הוה כדאמרינן בפסחים (דף קיג) אי לאו דרמאי שכרא לא איעתרי וסודני מיקרי כדאמרי' התם תמרי באוכלזך אבי סודנא רהוט ואמאי קרו ליה סודנא סוד נאה שמעשרת וגמילות חסדים.

רש"י מסכת נדה דף יב עמוד ב
סודני - תלמיד חכם על שם (תהלים כה) סוד ה' ליראיו.

Thus, because in Tehillim it states סוד ה' ליראיו (and see סודרא סוד ה' ליראיו in Shabbat 77b), Talmidei Chachamim in general are referred to as סודני. The alternative is that it means that Rav Pappa was a brewer. But Rashi is willing to posit it means Talmid Chacham on this basis. And there is nothing to suggest that he means specifically kabbalists, and specifically kabbalah.

So too here, sod is a stand in for Torah in general, and thus Rashi's explanation fits in well with the context. And once again, he only mentions it to explain how the gemara's derasha is working, rather than to define the specific type of Torah learning.

(See also Balashon on the word sod.)


Anonymous said...

The graphics on the video are hilarious teenage Mutant Ninja Rabbis

Yehudha said...

Even if "sodh" here means torath hannistar, who said torath hannistar equals qabbala?

joshwaxman said...

true. that gets to the point Shadal makes in his vikuach.

Though again, I am not even convinced that sod here means Torat haNistar.

Kol Tuv,

mojo said...

r' nachman told his student r' nossld that he would like the writings of the Ar"i simplified so young children could learn it.


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