Friday, August 14, 2009

Rav Papa stumbles

I saw a cute thought at Revach, and thought to respond to it. In parshat Reeh, we are told to assist the poor. Devarim 15:

ז כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ, בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּאַרְצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר-ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ--לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת-לְבָבְךָ, וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת-יָדְךָ, מֵאָחִיךָ, הָאֶבְיוֹן.7 If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother;
ח כִּי-פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת-יָדְךָ, לוֹ; וְהַעֲבֵט, תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ, דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ, אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ.8 but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.
ט הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן-יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם-לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל לֵאמֹר, קָרְבָה שְׁנַת-הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה, וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן, וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ; וְקָרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-ה', וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.9 Beware that there be not a base thought in thy heart, saying: 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand'; and thine eye be evil against thy needy brother, and thou give him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin in thee.
Revach records the following devar Torah from the Gra:
"Paso'ach Tiftach Es Yadecha Lo", open up your hand to the poor (Re'eh 15:8). The gemara in Bava Basra (10a) tells the story how Rav Papa was walking up the stairs and his foot slipped and he was about to fall. Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti said to him, "Maybe a poor person came to you and you did not support him." What is the connection between an accident on the steps and not giving tzedaka?

The Vilna Gaon explains this enigmatic comment with the "Trop" the notes used when reading in the Torah the words Paso'ach Tiftach. The notes are "Darga" and "Tevir" which literally means "Steps" and "Break". After seeing Rav Papa's accident on the stairs, Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti's first thought was this must be a tzedaka issue.
This is very creative, and indeed attests to the Gra's incredible brilliance and creativity, to make this kind of connection. But ultimately, I think it is incorrect.

The gemara in Bava Batra reads:
רב פפא הוה סליק בדרגא אישתמיט כרעיה בעי למיפל אמר השתא כן איחייב מאן דסני לן כמחללי שבתות וכעובדי עבודה זרה
א"ל חייא בר רב מדפתי לרב פפא שמא עני בא לידך ולא פרנסתו דתניא רבי יהושע בן קרחה אומר כל המעלים עיניו מן הצדקה כאילו עובד עבודה זרהכתיב הכא (דברים טו) השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וכתיב התם (דברים יג) יצאו אנשים בני בליעל מה להלן עבודה זרה אף כאן עבודה זרה
As R. Papa was climbing a ladder, his foot slipped and he narrowly escaped falling. Had that happened, he said, mine enemy {=himself} had been punished like Sabbath breakers and idolaters. Hiyya b. Rab from Difti said to him: Perhaps a beggar appealed to you and you did not assist him; for so it has been taught: R. Joshua b. Korhah says, Whoever turns away his eyes from [one who appeals for] charity is considered as if he were serving idols. It is written in one place, Beware that there be not a base thought in thine heart, and in another place, Certain base fellows are gone out. Just as in the second case the sin is that of idolatry, so in the first case the sin is equivalent to that of idolatry.
Thus, firstly, there is an explicit derasha, a gezeira shava, which explains the seemingly random connection. And why arrive at that? Well, I would say only because Rav Pappa began to process by saying that the kind of death min haShamayim that he narrowly averted was one usually reserved for idolators and murderers. In order to mitigate the severity of Rav Pappa's self-judgement, and at the same time engage in the process of yefashfesh bemaasav, Rabbi Chiyya bar Rav miDifti proposed this novel gezeira shava.

Also, his foot slipped on the ladder, rather than the ladder breaking. Perhaps one can say that upon the ladder, he almost broke himself?

Also, which incredibly innovative, tevir is a relatively common trup symbol which appears mechanically at the place of the dichotomy of a clause ending in tipcha. And a fairly common servus of tevir is darga. There are probably thousands of pesukim which have the trup of darga tevir on it. As one example, simply flipping open a chumash at random, Vayikra 20:9 has a darga tevir on yekalel et aviv, so maybe Rav Pappa cursed his father. Vayikra 20:16 has darga tevir on the yiten shichvato, which continues bivheima. So does ervat achoto in Vayikra 20:17. So does kemaaseh eretz mitzrayim in Vayikra 18:3. And so on and so forth. It depends on which direction you are coming from. If you already identify tzedaka, then you can find this cute reference to the darga mentioned in the story and add the tevir. But realistically, going in the other direction, to get from darga tevir to tzedaka, that is extremely unlikely.

This is not the only story in what problems with giving charity to beggers was identified as the cause for punishment. It seems to have been a popular attributed cause. So perhaps this was cultural, with the extra connection of the gezera shava to assist.

However, I would offer the following explanation seriously. Chazal believe in mida keneged mida, so there should be some relationship between the punishment and the crime. This way, one is given a big hint in his examination of his own deeds. This is what Rav Pappa said, speaking about whom the punishment is usually targeted at. And Chiyya bar Rav helped along by extending it to tzedaka.

But something else could have inspired him to make this connection, rather than another. The accident was that Rav Pappa stumbled on a darga, which is a ladder (or also steps). And culturally, a ladder has a specific meaning to the Tannaim and Amoraim.

Thus, we see in Midrash Tanchuma that they had this conception of a ladder of fortune, controlled by Hashem. Hashem erects ladders, and people ascend and become rich, or descend and become poor.

If Rav Pappa was climbing a ladder, that corresponds with becoming wealthy. And the wealthy, while they are wealthy, have an obligation to assist those who are descending the ladder. He was not so careful in his steps, and missed a rung, and was almost nichshal, to his great detriment.

I would posit that Chiya bar Rav understood the message of this imagery, and quickly arrived at the meaning of erring in charity. And while diverting to this message, he also drew the connection to Rav Pappa's message about the severity of the error, in order to include it as well.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I heard Rabbi Bernstein take this to the next level and said that If you look how Dovid died it was the same way he heard the noise climbed up the ladder and a rung broke because it says they used to come to him everyday about the problems of the jews with money and instead of giving away the money he had for the beis hamikdash he saved it so he never got to build it .and it was never used for that purpose its Parshas Reeh Rabbi Berinstein (and really saying the GRA is wrong ,I am sorry i Will go with him over you any day.) the shiur is avalibile online if your intrested i will post the link

joshwaxman said...

this is a very nice explanation of the midrash, and may indeed reflect the midrash's intent. bli neder, i'll try to see the midrash inside.

in terms of choosing the Gra over me, you are certainly entitled to do so. but are you doing this as a matter of the merits of either argument, or as a matter of the respective weight of our personalities? there is an idea of lo takir panim in the second pasuk in shofetim. (of course, one can readily say that because of the weight of my torah learning and the gra's torah learning, in general, you will trust that his analysis is deeper and truer.) without seeing the gra inside, i would guess that this could have been intended as shaloshudes toirah. i would similarly dismiss his incredibly brilliant dvar torah on parshat vayigash.
kt,
josh

Anonymous said...

http://www.englishtorahtapes.com/parshas.htm

Anonymous said...

Parshas Re'eh: Vilna Gaon - Give Tzedaka and Watch Your Step
"Paso'ach Tiftach Es Yadecha Lo", open up your hand to the poor (Re'eh 15:8).
The Gemara in Bava Basra (10a) tells the story how Rav Papa was walking up the stairs and his foot slipped and he was about to fall. Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti said to him, "Maybe a poor person came to you and you did not support him." What is the connection between an accident on the steps and not giving tzedaka? The Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu explains using the "Trop". That is the notes used when reading in the Torah. If you look at the words Paso'ach Tiftach in the Chumash you will find something of great intrigue. The Trop on these words are "Darga" and "Tevir" which in Aramaic means "Steps" and "Break". Now we understand why after seeing Rav Papa's accident on the stairs, Rav Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti's first thought was it had to be a tzedaka issue, as he had just experienced seeing someone on steps that were breaking.
This explanation of "Darga" and "Tevir" can explain another interesting Gemara in Shabbos. Dovid asks Hashem "when will I die"? Hashem replies "I can not tell you" .He goes on and asks at least tell me on what day of the week? Hashem answers him" it will be on Shabbos". Dovid with the information in hand has a plan to extend his life. Being that I must die on Shabbos I will learn all of that day and render myself untouchable to the angel of death. Being that the power of Torah will protect me. When the day of his death came the angel of death had his own counter plan. He made the trees outside rustle to such an extent that Dovid was forced to see what was happening. Dovid went up on a ladder the rung broke and as a result he died. Here again we have the theme of falling from the ladder .The question is what is the connection?
The Gemara in Brachos gives Dovid's daily schedule and says everyday:
כיון שעלה עמוד השחר נכנסו חכמי ישראל אצלו אמרו לו אדונינו המלך עמך ישראל צריכין פרנסה
That is every day the wise men would come and tell Dovid the Jews need money he would say "let them do buisness with one another, and so they will earn their money" they further told him your system is not working so he said in that case capture the thieves and that will solve the problem.
Reb Yonasan Eibshitz says this was a daily occurrence, he gave that answer on a daily basis and apparently it was not helping, Dovid was missing the point. The Jews needed Dovid to do or say something more practical .He brings down a Yalkut Shimoni based on a Posuk in Divrie Hayomim. There Dovid lists exorbitant amounts of money he had saved up to build the Beis Hamikdash. It further says when there was a three year famine in the land he refused to give up any of the money, as he was saving it for the Beis Hamikdash. The Yalkut brings down that this angered Hashem. Dovid had his priorities wrong because Hashem had said tzedakah is greater than the building of the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore he was punished by not being allowed to build the Beis Hamikdash. To add insult to injury the money was never used for the building of the Beis Hamikdash. As we know from Melachim that only after the completion of the Beis Hamikdash did Shlomo take out the money and put it away in the treasuries. That is because he was instructed by the Nevim of his day that this money was not to be used to build the Beis Hamikdash (Pesikta Rabbosi). Now we know why Dovid died with a fall from the ladder as he forgot the poor. Therefore he got the "Darga Tevir breaking step as his final death blow.

joshwaxman said...

thanks! it's absolutely brilliant and i love it.

(i still don't think it's true, but perhaps an explanation why not in a separate comment.)

kt,
josh

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Bernstein stuff is all absolutely brilliant You should listen just for post ideas but this week all they have up is his son who I cant vouch for.

joshwaxman said...

thanks for the tip. i'll try to keep it in mind.

in terms of why i still don't think it is true -- i try to evaluate each source on its own terms. the reason i disagree with Gra i gave above.

in terms of whether David was derelict in supporting the poor, i'd have to see the yalkut inside. but the yalkut is not the same as the gemara, and we should get our cues from it itself. i can toss out the gemara in Bava Batra daf 10 (the same as about Rav Papa, but amud beis instead, which has): "R. Abbahu also said: Solomon the son of David was asked: How far does the power of charity extend? He replied: Go and see what my father David has stated on the matter: He hath dispersed, he hath given to the needy, his righteousness endureth for ever."

indeed, some (for example Rashi on the daf) explain the first suggestion David gives in Berachot 3b not as conducting business among themselves but of the ashirim giving charity. so to cite this gemara as evidence of his deficiency in this regard seems off. (of course, it is not so much so if it is business.) and the point of this midrash, to my mind, is not that this was a daily occurrence and a failure of David's rule, but that this was one of the functions of Israelite reign that happened *on occasion*. And that David is being rescued from a reputation of bloodthirsty plunderer -- a sense one might get from the pesukim -- and see that this was a course of last resort. And also that this was taken with all proper steps, with the Sanhedrin and king acting with a system of checks and balances. one *could* derive as rav yonasan eibeshitz does, but it does not seem to be the *point* of this gemara. rather, it appears to me to be a creative extrapolation.

the gemara in shabbos daf 31 seems more along the lines of the midrashim of Luz, as a place away from the angel of death, and how it is impossible to avert fate in this regard. while the gemara involving rav papa explicitly brought in charity, there is no real reason to bring it in here. a ladder might have many minshalim. what is its import when Og sits on a rung and swears to Noach? and don't say darga tevir because we already saw how many psukim have darga tevir. the reason of his foot slipping on the rung would appear to be that being startled in this way took his mind (further) off Torah, causing a hesech hadaas such that he was not able to control himself and thus control fate in this way. Such an explanation seems to me to be in accord with the source, rather than something being imposed upon it.

kt,
josh

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