Sunday, March 01, 2009

Considering "Three Stories of Gadlus"

Life in Israel has three stories of Gadlus. And see the discussion in the comment section. Here is one such story:
Rav Shteinman said to one of his confidantes that on shabbos when bentching, one is required to add the paragraph of "r'tzeih". If one forgot to say it, he would have to repeat the bentching. If he is unsure of he said it or not, he would also be required to repeat the bentching, because we would assume that he said the most common bentching he is familiar with, which is the weekday version not including R'tzeih, meaning we would assume he skipped it and therefore he must repeat it.

Rav Shteinman continued, the question therefore is regarding me - I never eat bread during the week. So my regular bentching is one that includes r;tzeih. So if on shabbos I would bentch and be unsure whether or not I said r'tzeih, would the decision be any different?

Realizing that the question was not really relevant, one of the people present asked Rav Shteinman - how long has it been since the rav has not eaten bread during the week?

Rav Shteinman's answer: 70 years!
I see how one can read this as a type of middat chassidus. (The question of whether such asceticism is a good or bad thing in Judaism is a separate question.) However, I am not so sure that it was intended that way.

In Pirkei Avot, we read: כך היא דרכה של תורה פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ובתורה אתה עמל



It would seem that this would be the standard diet of deprivation. And this is even during the week! All of a sudden, bread is a luxury, such that one is depriving himself as a middat chassidut by avoiding bread?! And what does one eat instead? Surely he did not eat air and dirt, for 70 years. There are other foods available, certainly.

I can say about myself the same thing, by the way, that for many, many years on end, I did not eat bread during the week. This is not because I am such a righteous individual. Rather, this was based on the specific type of food my mother served, and then in college, the food that was served there. It was only on the rare occassion that I ate bread during the week. Of course, on Shabbos, there is challah or matzah, and an obligation to make hamotzi, and then bentch. I can further testify about myself that kegon ana, one such as myself, I did find that on the rare occasion I did eat bread during the week, if I was not paying careful attention, I did automatically begin to say retzei.

So maybe he did mean it as a middat chassidut, in which case I am not sure of the rationale. But it seems quite likely that it is not such, but the typical listener (in the shiur, the one who wrote the book, the one who read the book) who does eat bread during the week, and who is looking for inspirational practices from gedolim, this might well be considered a middat chassidut.

On the other hand, the next story does show that he holds by ascetic practices, such that the reading of it as an attempt at self-deprivation may well be correct.

In terms of the next story, I just don't know:
Similarly it is known that the rav only drinks hot water unflavored with tea, as drinking water flavored with tea is considered by him to be filling a desire. He would say "Why do I need to drink hot water that is colored brown?"

One time a doctor said to him that tea is good for his health, as it contains healthy nutrients. The doctor recommended he begin drinking tea. The rav agreed to drink a cup of tea. When he was about to drink the tea, he changed his mind and said,"For 90 years I have been fine without tea. Right now I have to start with new desires?"

And he did not drink the tea.
He was momentarily persuaded by the doctor that it contains healthy nutrients. It would seem to me that indeed there are two conflicting values here. One is depriving oneself of the pleasures life affords (which is debatable as a value, but certainly does have its proponents in some Jewish sources), while the other is the Torah's command to take good care of one's health. And a life of deprivation may indeed reduce one's health, especially if one limits one's intake without regard to the health impact. It seems that for a moment, he was persuaded by the doctor's recommendation.

I am not sure what he means by "For 90 years I have been fine without tea. Right now I have to start with new desires?" One can read this as "for 90 years I have been healthy without tea." In which case this is not a very convincing argument. At different stages in people's life, they may become frailer than at other stages. And there is also the cummulative impact of the various ascetic practices over the years. And Rabbi Tzaddok did not refuse the fig from the doctors after the years of fasting. One can also read this as "for 90 years I have been perfectly happy without tea." In which case his focus would be on the asceticism, where perhaps he regarded the momentary health consideration to be a moreh heter.

At any rate, I don't find this particularly inspirational. I hold more by the position that:
רבי אלעזר הקפר ברבי אומר: מה תלמוד לומר (בנזיר), וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש"? וכי באיזו נפש חטא זה? אלא שציער עצמו מן היין. והלא דברים קל וחומר. ומה זה, שלא ציער עצמו אלא מן היין, נקרא חוטא, המצער עצמו מכל דבר ודבר על אחת כמה וכמה

In terms of the third story, of course Rav Mordechai Reimer felt guilt and anguish over the incident, and not just over the halachic aspects of it. But certain personalities which are immersed in Torah express this feeling in halachic terms, which is not dry and technical, but reflects an underlying morality. See my previous post about how to be a chassid.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am going to try Baiting you again with a Purim reference see if you bite. What I think is the Most Famous Ben Yehoyda on Gemara Megillah that Esther did not have Relations with Achashverosh instead she sent a Shade. There is a major problem with this In that we learn that "Esther Karaka Olam" and other Halachos from this relationship so what gives? I mentioned this in passing to a Rebbi of mine who is known as the Living Otzar Hachamah in Our circles alot of Bekius in everything he told me first of all it is not the Ben Yehoyda's idea it is a Zohar,also the Pirush on the Bottom of the Zohar Nitzotzie Oros (which I believe is the Chida) Answers your question without asking it He says she split herself in two and sent her evil side.(whatever that means)I will just throw in another Ben Yehoyda for good measure which I find comical. He asks why is it that Nevuchanetzar was punished and died on the night he used the Keilim and Achshverosh not he says it is because "Ishto Kigofo" so essentially he was killed. I hope My Rany Inspires a Purim Post as it is long past Sheloshim Yom(;

joshwaxman said...

interesting questions. thanks.
the hour is pressing during the next week or so, and so I'm not even sure I'll get to any purim material this year. we'll have to see. :(

I'm not sure competing midrashim / interpretations are problematic, even if we derive halacha from one of the interpretations...

KT,
Josh

Rafi G. said...

the only problem is that your diyukim are not on what he said, but on my freehand translation of what was written (probably also inaccurately) in a magazine.

So, they might have not gotten it exactly, and I definitely was not medayek. And I do not have the magazine any longer to check the actual wording they used. Maybe when the book is published we will be able to confirm the wording...

joshwaxman said...

I will certainly grant you that.

KT,
Josh

moish said...

I like the way you say "I hold" like the gemoro in nozir, as if we choose between gemoros, obviously you picked the one that makes life easier for you. But in fact that gemoro doesn't prove anything, as one could say that davka to make a neder and so to cause an issur upon himself that even when he needs to drink wine he will not be able to, he is called מצער עצמו, but maybe to abstain willingly when there is the option to not abstain is not מצער עצמו, - פת בסלו.besides in the gemoro it is clear that this is שיטת יחידאה (plus another tanna if I remember correctly). and if we are talking about eating purely for pleasure not for health this is already paskened in shulchan oruch o.c. 231 [although a measure of pleasurable eating may also be sometimes לשם שמים]

joshwaxman said...

It is not that I am seeking kulos, or trying to live the good life. It is that philosophically, I do not think that asceticism, especially merely for the sake of asceticism, is the optimal way to live in Hashem's world. Such that I do not admire such actions or think them signs of gadlus. Sorry.

Of course it is a machlokes. Is one who is yoshev betaanis called a tzadik, a chasid, or a choteh? The answer *really* is that different Tannaim and Amoraim held different views on asceticism. And even as (IIRC) the position that nikra chotei is cited lehalacha, for מצער נפשיה (which can be defined in all sorts of ways). Why would this be so if in the end it is just a daas yachid?

BTW, this is a harmonization by the stama degmara, which likes to harmonize. I would maintain that in truth it is a machlokes in the general case, and is such throughout generations.

Related to this general these, here are two old posts of mine on the subject. There are more, unpublished. But here and here.

KT,
Josh

moish said...

see ramban at the beginning of parahas kedoshim, according to him it is not only a good thing but a chiyuv, a mitzvas asay, to be poreish from ��� all that you have posted has been about a taanis or a nedder which is different as distinguished in my previous comment. this does not mean being menutak from olom hazeh, that is an entirely different philosophical machlokes, the malbim [at the beginning of parahas chukas in � ��� discusses at length and depth that it is a machlokes hillel and shammay, and for the general person the correct way is definitely not to be poreish from olom hazeh , as is also clear in chovos halevovos [Rav Shteinman �� is particularly ���� �� ������.
and about whether sitting in a taanis is a choteh ora mitzva, it is worthy to note that in the seforim [I think the tanya is one] it states that this is only for someone who hasn't sinned and he is fasting for prishus, but not to fast to be mechaper for aveiros, this was always the derech until this dor to fast for teshuva, in shovavim, bahab, aseres yemei teshuva etc.

joshwaxman said...

your hebrew did not come through. can you repost?

moish said...

sorry it seems the hebrew words did not show up, so I am resending my comment in english
see ramban at the beginning of parahas kedoshim, according to him it is not only a good thing but a chiyuv, a mitzvas asay, to be poreish from moiserois, all that you have posted has been about a taanis or a nedder which is different as distinguished in my previous comment. this does not mean being menutak from olom hazeh, that is an entirely different philosophical machlokes, the malbim [at the beginning of parahas chukas in torah ohr] discusses at length and depth that it is a machlokes hillel and shammay, and for the general person the correct way is definitely not to be poreish from olom hazeh , as is also clear in chovos halevovos [Rav Shteinman is agav particularly
meurav bein habriyos]
and about whether sitting in a taanis is a choteh ora mitzva, it is worthy to note that in the seforim [I think the tanya is one] it states that this is only for someone who hasn't sinned and he is fasting for prishus, but not to fast to be mechaper for aveiros, this was always the derech until this dor to fast for teshuva, in shovavim, bahab, aseres yemei teshuva etc.

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