Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Learner/Burner Question -- part 6

Read the previous parts of this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

"haTalmud Kodem leMaaseh"

We might offer an alternative resolution to the contradiction between Tannaitic sources as to whether to stop learning in order to physically destroy chametz. We need not say that the Tannaitic sources are dealing with different circumstances. Instead, we can claim that there truly is a Tannaitic debate on the matter, based on the dispute between Rabbi Yehuda haNasi and the Sages who voted in Lud, regarding whether learning Torah or actual actions fulfilling Torah takes precedence. Yerushalmi Pesachim 24a states:

כך שנה רבי המעשה קודם לתלמוד. נמנו בעליית בית אריס בלוד התלמוד קודם למעשה. ר' אבהו שלח לרבי חנינה בריה יזכי בטיבריה. אתון ואמרין ליה גמל הוא חסד שלח ומר ליה המבלי אין קברים בקיסרין שלחתיך לטבריא. שכבר נמנו וגמרו בעליית בית אריס בלוד שהתלמוד קודם למעשה. רבנין דקיסרין אמרין הדא דתימר בשיש שם מי שיעשה אבל אם אין שם מי שיעשה המעשה קודם. דלמא ר' חייא רבי יוסי ר' אימי ענון למיתי גבי רבי אלעזר אמר לון אן הויתון. אמרין ליה גמל חסד. אמר לון ולא הוה תמן חורנין אמרין ליה מגור היה

Thus, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, redactor of the Mishna, maintains that actual actions performing mitzvot takes priority over the learning of Torah. Meanwhile, in Lud, they voted and concluded that learning Torah takes priority over actual performance of mitzvot described in the Torah. The halacha is thus in accordance with the Sages in Lud and against Rabbi Yehuda haNasi. The Sages of Caesaria clarified this decision as referring to a case when the required activity would not otherwise get done. Thus, for example, if there is no one else to do the gemilat chesed of burying the dead, then he should take initiative and do it, even if this takes time away from learning.

The Tosefta, and perhaps by extension the Mishna (footnote: which records the law derived from the case in the Tosefta -- even though the Mishna does not overtly discuss the case), are in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda haNasi's opinion. Thus, performance of mitzvot is the ultimate goal, and so one should break off studying in the study hall in order to physically remove the chametz, actively fulfilling (Shemot 12:15) תשביתו שאור מבתיכם. However, we rule against Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, and the brayta reflects that. Since learning Torah takes priority over action, if he is sitting in the study hall and recalls that he still has chametz, he should not break off learning in order to physically dispose of it.

Now, the Sages of Caesaria clarified that this idea that learning Torah takes priority over action is only when there is not another to do it. However, when there is no other to do it, then action has priority. Why, then, should he stay in the study hall? We would propose that the point of the the Sages of Caesaria's statement is that Torah study has priority so long as what is necessary will be accomplished by other means. In this instance, the other means is not someone performing the physical destruction of chametz, but rather the nullification in his heart that the brayta instructs him to perform. Once he nullifies it, there is no more chametz in his possession, and so the goal has been accomplished.

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