Sunday, May 25, 2008

Extrospective vs. Introspective Derashot

Recently, I have seen too many divrei Torah with the message of "here is why we are great and those other people are entirely without merit." Those other people are on occasion religious Zionists, secular Israelis, people who don't belong to a particular end-of-times kabbalistic cult, and so on. This annoys and offends me -- first because I think it is not true, and second because even if it were true, is this really what one should be expending energy on? How is this productive? It just boosts feelings of superiority rather than introspection and true love for one's fellow man. There are indeed times and places when there is a need for such derashos, but I do not think the present situation warrants it.

I think that Rabbi Yochanan felt the same way, in an exchange in Kesubos 111b with Rabbi Eliezer. And I think that the proper way to learn this gemara is to realize what is happening on this meta-level, an almost homiletic level, rather than the actual interpretation of texts.

Ketubot 111b reads:
R. Eleazar said; The illiterate will not be resurrected, for it is said in Scripture, The dead will not live etc. So it was also taught: The dead will not live. As this might [be assumed to refer] to all, it was specifically stated, The lax will not rise, [thus indicating] that the text speaks only of such a man as was lax in the study of the words of the Torah.

{The pasuk was Yeshaya 26:14:
יד מֵתִים, בַּל-יִחְיוּ--רְפָאִים, בַּל-יָקֻמוּ; לָכֵן פָּקַדְתָּ וַתַּשְׁמִידֵם, וַתְּאַבֵּד כָּל-זֵכֶר לָמוֹ. 14 The dead live not, the shades rise not; to that end hast Thou punished and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.
and refaim, "shades," is understood here as lax.
First the statement was that the dead shall not live, but this is not all the dead, only the refaim -- the lax.

Said R. Johanan to him: it is no satisfaction to their Master that you should speak to them in this manner. That text was written of a man who was so lax as to worship idols.

'I', the other replied, 'make an exposition [to the same effect] from another text. For it is written in Scripture, For thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the dead. him who makes use of the 'light' of the Torah will the 'light' of the Torah revive, but him who makes no use of the light of the Torah the light of the Torah will not revive'.

{This is a verse a few pesukim later in the same perek:

יט יִחְיוּ מֵתֶיךָ, נְבֵלָתִי יְקוּמוּן; הָקִיצוּ וְרַנְּנוּ שֹׁכְנֵי עָפָר, כִּי טַל אוֹרֹת טַלֶּךָ, וָאָרֶץ, רְפָאִים תַּפִּיל. {פ} 19 Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise--awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust--for Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.

Observing, however, that he was distressed, he said to him, 'Master, I have found for them a remedy in the Pentateuch: But ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day;

{ Devarim 4:4:

ד וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.


now is it possible to 'cleave' to the divine presence concerning which it is written in Scripture, For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire? But [the meaning is this:] Any man who marries his daughter to a scholar, or carries on a trade on behalf of scholars, or benefits scholars from his estate is regarded by Scripture as if he had cleaved to the divine presence. Similarly you read in Scripture, To love the Lord thy God, [to hearken to His voice,] and to cleave unto Him. Is it possible for a human being to 'cleave' unto the divine presence? But [what was meant is this:] Any man who marries his daughter to a scholar, or carries on a trade for scholars, or benefits scholars from his estate is regarded by Scripture as if he had cleaved to the divine presence.
The "illiterate" refers to amaratzim, and in fact soon Shadal will be discussing Rabbi Eliezer's first derasha in the context of the philosophical notion that only intellectual study will allow the soul to be everlasting, instead of being cut off.

The problem with Rabbi Eliezer's derasha is not that something about the pasuk which acts as a prooftext works correctly, or better, about idolaters than an interpretation about not learning Torah -- even though the previous pasuk is:
יג ה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, בְּעָלוּנוּ אֲדֹנִים זוּלָתֶךָ; לְבַד-בְּךָ, נַזְכִּיר שְׁמֶךָ. 13 O LORD our God, other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us; but by Thee only do we make mention of Thy name.
But this is not Rabbi Yochanan's issue, I think. Rather, he states his issue -- " it is no satisfaction to their Master that you should speak to them in this manner."

Homiletic derashos such are this are in the hands of man, and this is an unproductive and possibly hurtful path to take. I doubt that an am haaretz hear this derasha and so, "Oh noes! I had better start studying!" Rather, it makes those who learn Torah feel more accomplished, but more than that, that they solely will be getting reward. As opposed to the unlearned man in the market, who is their fellow Jew. I don't know how Hashem will reward effort, though I hope all good people, even if unlearned, will get their just reward. But in terms of my own attitude, it is not positive to think of other people, who in general will not be changing, with disdain, and to consider their lives of little or no value. Even if the derasha, and the actual facts, are true, it is not to the satisfaction of their Master that I speak of them in this manner. Rather, I should value them as fellow human beings, and regard them with love and respect. Even if my priorities and judgments differ.

If one does not make such a derasha, the pasuk still stands waiting for a derasha. And Rabbi Yochanan provides one. And it is one against idolatry. This places those not to be resurrected at a greater extreme, for those do not worship Hashem at all, but worship other gods. But in terms of fellow Jews, even those who do not commit themselves to the study of Torah, they still will merit resurrection. But I do not think the point was the alternate derasha.

Rabbi Eliezer's response is to seize on a pasuk a bit later in the same perek in Yeshaya, and darshen it in the same manner as he first attempted.

Rabbi Yochanan is not happy. This is not because of a problem with linguistic merits of the derasha. Rather, Rabbi Yochanan is vexed by the conclusion of the derasha. And if presses, surely one could come up with an alternative homiletic derasha here. But Rabbi Eliezer has certainly not won the argument against Rabbi Yochanan. Rather, Rabbi Yochanan blocked his first derasha by showing an alternative interpretation, and Rabbi Eliezer (perhaps tone-deaf) circumvents this block by showing that he will just take another verse (and perhaps another verse, and another verse, and so on) and apply it to this class of people.

It is indeed the conclusion that vexes Rabbi Yochanan. How could Rabbi Eliezer write out so many of his fellow Jews, who simply did not merit to learn Torah? Rabbi Eliezer senses this, and is willing to meet Rabbi Yochanan half-way. Those Jews who agree to the general program and priorities, and even though they do not themselves learn, respect learning and do what they can to support it -- they can also be resurrected. Thus the pasuk in Devarim reads
ד וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
which is interpreted as those who attach to Talmidei Chachamim. Those will be alive on that day, hayom.

This is a more inclusive picture, though not an entirely inclusive one. Still, it answers to the problem of superiority and sinas chinam, for these also have their place and are valued by Hashem values them. And it gives a role to those who are not cut out to study, because of whatever life-circumstances. And it is productive in that it brings these people from the outside in to the mission, in a way they can participate.

A while ago, when discussing a similar derasha made by Rabbi Yochanan (in comparison to statements made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef), someone suggested that this was all self-serving of Rabbi Yochanan, as a way of garnering support for himself and other Torah scholars. But we can see from this exchange that it was not this. Rather, it is out of love for a fellow Jew and a desire to find a place for others of different backgrounds in the service of Hashem.

This actually brings us to that other derasha, which occurs in Berachot 34b:
וא"ר חייא בר אבא א"ר יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא למשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם ולעושה פרקמטיא לתלמיד חכם ולמהנה תלמיד חכם מנכסיו אבל תלמידי חכמים עצמן עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך
This is remarkably similar to Rabbi Eliezer's derasha, but Rabbi Eliezer was Rabbi Yochanan's student, and he made the derasha in conversation with Rabbi Yochanan. What is happening here?

I do not think this is the general trend some claim that statements from Eretz Yisrael are attributed to Rabbi Yochanan. No. I think that it is possible that Rabbi Eliezer knew of Rabbi Yochanan's derasha, and patterned his own after it. Or potentially vice versa.

Rabbi Yochanan's derasha in Berachos is in fact different in slight ways, which are really major ways.
  1. Here, Rabbi Yochanan is not merely allowing them to be resurrected in techiyas hameisim, but rather is saying that all the rewards mentioned in Tanach are going to them.
  2. Of course, Rabbi Yochanan is not talking about those who do not contribute in this manner, but I would not read that as agreeing with Rabbi Eliezer about such people. Such people as e.g. do chessed, but are not committed to learning Torah.
  3. It is entirely positive all around. Not only does it encourage everybody to take part in this great Torah-learning endeavor, but it also encourages the Talmidei Chachamim by saying they will get even more, something which is unimaginable. You do not need to knock down others to promote your own group as doing something more important.
Maharatz Chayos actually treats this derasha as homiletic, and as a guzma, in order to encourage certain attitudes one should take. But I think it would be unfortunate if someone takes Rabbi Yochanan's derasha, meant to encourage each group, in order to foster attitudes of low-worth to e.g. those who do not commit themselves to learning while working, or (in from another person's perspective) those who do not commit themselves to kollel-only, but instead work for a living. Not everyone is cut out for such a life, or such a direction to their efforts. Personalities are different, and abilities are different. Some people may be well-suited for hours of intensive Talmud study, and others might have talents in creative endeavors such as painting, or in working with people in a bein adam lachaveiro realm.

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