1) WHICH IS BETTER -- "SINAI" OR "OKER HARIM"
QUESTION: The Gemara discusses whether it is better to be one who is "Sinai" or one who is "Oker Harim." "Sinai" characterizes a Talmid Chacham who knows all of the Mishnayos and Beraisos, and is familiar with them as if he had heard them directly from Sinai. "Oker Harim" describes a Talmid Chacham who is extremely sharp in his methodology of Torah learning and analysis, even though his knowledge is not as broad as that of "Sinai." The Gemara concludes that "Sinai," amassing broad Torah knowledge, is better.
The BE'ER SHEVA (Horayos 14a) says that this seems to contradict a number of other statements in the Gemara, which clearly teach that the ability to deeply analyze a subject, or "Mechudad Yoser b'Pilpul" in Rashi's words, is a more important quality than the ability to amass broad Torah knowledge. The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) teaches that when a person is brought to his final judgment in the heavenly court, he will be asked, "Pilpalta b'Chochmah" -- "Did you profoundly analyze with wisdom the Torah's teachings?" He will not be asked whether or not he amassed a large amount of knowledge, but only whether or not he applied analytical skills to his knowledge.
Similarly, the Gemara in Bava Metzia (85b) relates that Reish Lakish was unable to find the grave of Rebbi Chiya. He understood that the reason was because he was not fit to have the grave of such a great man revealed to him. Reish Lakish complained, saying, "Hash-m! Have I not been Mefalpel in Torah as much as he?" This implies that it is more important to analyze the Torah than to amass Torah knowledge.
We also find in Berachos (6b) that a person receives his main reward for analyzing the Torah that he learns ("Agra d'Shema'ata Sevara").
(a) The BE'ER SHEVA answers that there are two types of "Pilpul." One type is the Pilpul that comes easily to a person because he possesses a naturally analytical mind. This is the type of Pilpul to which the Gemara here refers; "Sinai" is considered greater than this type of "Oker Harim." The other statements of the Gemara, which discuss the greatness of one who is Mefalpel, are referring to a person who exerts himself and forces his mind to analyze the Gemara even when it is difficult for him. This certainly is a greater accomplishment than that of a person who simply learns Gemara and amasses a large amount of knowledge without analyzing it. This answer is based on the principle taught by the Mishnah in Avos (5:23), "l'Fum Tza'ara Agra," that the reward is commensurate with the effort.
According to this understanding, the same should apply to "Sinai." If a person does not naturally remember all that he has learned, but he must invest a great amount of time and effort in order to retain his learning, he should be considered greater than the person who puts the same amount of effort into Pilpul. It must be that the Gemara is discussing one who is "Sinai" and one who is "Oker Harim" who put the same amount of effort into their achievements; either they both worked hard, or they both were blessed with natural skills. When the Gemara elsewhere emphasizes the analytical approach, it is referring to a person who naturally remembers the Gemara. For such a person, it is more important to put effort into Pilpul. (Even though such a gifted person probably finds that the analytical skills also come easily to him, nevertheless there is no limit to the depth that one can probe in analysis of the Torah. Therefore, it is always possible for a person to receive reward for further pushing himself to analyze deeper. He might not receive reward, though, for amassing more and more Torah knowledge, because he might be the type of person who has a naturally gifted memory, for whom amassing knowledge does not require considerable effort.)
(b) The CHOK NASAN answers that the praiseworthy quality of a "Sinai" person is not that he has learned a lot of Torah, but rather that he has retained it all. The Gemara in Megilah (6b) teaches that remembering one's learning depends on Siyata d'Shemaya, Divine assistance, and not on one's own efforts. Therefore, a person cannot be held accountable for failing to fully retain all that he has learned.
When the Gemara in Shabbos states that a person's reward in Olam ha'Ba comes from his Pilpul, it is referring to a person who is not blessed with a perfect memory. Since he does not retain all that he has learned, his main reward will not be for the amount that he has learned, but for the depth of knowledge that he achieved in that which he does remember. Since every person is capable of attaining a certain measure of depth of understanding, he will be held accountable if he does not fulfill his potential, and he will be rewarded if he does analyze what he has learned according to his abilities.
This answer is based on two principles. The first is that a person's reward is in accordance with the degree to which he fulfills his potential. The second is that the reward for amassing Torah knowledge is given only to a person who retains that knowledge; a person is not entitled to such reward just for learning it if he does not retain the knowledge (although, of course, he is rewarded for performing the act of the Mitzvah of learning Torah; see Avodah Zarah 19a ("Kovetz Al Yad Yad"), Pesachim 50a, and Bava Basra 10b ("Ashrei Mi she'Ba l'Kan v'Talmudo b'Yado")).
(c) Perhaps we may suggest another approach. It is clear from all of the Gemaras cited above that the goal of a person's Torah study should be the analysis and understanding of the different sources that he learns during his lifetime. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (19a) teaches that a person should spend his youth absorbing the teachings of his mentors, and afterwards he should analyze them. A person's goal should be to reach the second stage, analysis and deeper understanding of the Gemara.
The Gemara in Megilah (28b) relates that it happened once that when a person who was an expert in all of the Mishnayos and Beraisos died, the Amora'im could find nothing better to say about him at his eulogy than "we have lost a basket-full of books." This again shows that when a person does not analyze what he has learned, he does not achieve the ultimate objective of Torah study.
Similarly, the Gemara in Berachos (47b) teaches that a person is in the category of an Am ha'Aretz if he has not "served Talmidei Chachamim" -- which RASHI there explains means analyzing the sources and reasons for the teachings of the Mishnah -- even if he has read all of the Torah and learned all of the Mishnah.
This explains the Gemaras quoted by the Be'er Sheva which show that a person is rewarded for Pilpul, rather than for amassing Torah knowledge.
The Gemara here is not discussing what quality provides the greater advantage to the person himself, but rather what quality provides the greater advantage to the person's students. The Gemara is debating who is preferable as the Rosh Yeshiva. The Gemara concludes that even if the person who is a greater Mefalpel is considered to have achieved a greater degree of Torah learning than the person who has amassed more knowledge, nevertheless the one with the greater amount of knowledge is of greater benefit to his students. The reason for this is because a student can be Mefalpel on his own, even if his teacher does not teach him those skills. However, he will never know the sources unless they are first taught to him.
For a similar reason, the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (19a) teaches that while a person's teacher is still alive, he should be eager to learn from his teacher as many sources as possible, even if he forgets them and even if he does not understand them, since he will have no other opportunity to learn the sources (see RASHI there, DH v'Achar Kach). (M. KORNFELD)
2) AGADAH: "HE DID NOT EVEN CALL A BLOOD-LETTER TO HIS HOUSE"
QUESTION: The Gemara says that Rav Yosef was "Sinai" and Rabah was "Oker Harim." Even though the consensus is that "Sinai" is greater, Rav Yosef deferred to Rabah and let him become the Rosh Yeshiva instead of himself. The Gemara comments that for all of the twenty-two years that Rabah served as the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yosef "did not even call a blood-letter to his house." What is the Gemara telling us in this cryptic statement?
(a) RASHI (DH Umna) explains that this statement demonstrates the humility of Rav Yosef. All of the years that Rabah was Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yosef never even called a blood-letter to his own home, which is something a person of prominence certainly is entitled to do. Instead, he would go to the blood-letter's house (or to the resident blood-letter in Rabah's house, as Rashi in Horayos 14a explains). This was a way of showing that he did not consider himself an important person.
(b) Rashi in Horayos (14a) adds that some have a text which states that Rav Yosef was so subservient to Rabah that he was always learning in front of him, as a Talmid learns before his Rav. As he was such a devoted and loyal Talmid of Rabah, he never had time to go to a blood-letter. According to this explanation, the Gemara is demonstrating Rav Yosef's diligence.
(c) The TOSFOS HA'ROSH (Horayos 14a, DH Afilu) quotes others who explain that the Gemara is describing the reward that Rav Yosef received for declining the position in favor of Rabah. The Gemara is teaching that Rav Yosef did not need to solicit the services of a blood-letter all of the years that Rabah was Rosh Yeshiva, either because whenever Rav Yosef needed to let blood, Rabah would arrange a blood-letter for Rav Yosef (RAV HAI GA'ON), or because -- in the merit of humbling himself -- he never became ill. In reward for his humility, he and all of his household were spared from illness during the entire twenty-two year period and did not need the services of a blood-letter at all (RAMAH).
Although the text of the Gemara here in Berachos is that Rav Yosef "did not call" ("Kara") a blood-letter for all of those years, the text in Horayos is that "a blood-letter did not pass (Chalif) by Rav Yosef's house all of those years." Similarly, the DIKDUKEI SOFRIM in Berachos cites a text that "a blood-letter did not approach (Karav) Rav Yosef's house." The Ramah apparently had the text of the Gemara in Horayos, and that is why he explains that the Gemara is not emphasizing that Rav Yosef did not call the blood-letter, but that he did not need a blood-letter altogether, as the Dikdukei Sofrim in Horayos (#70) points out.
(d) The BE'ER SHEVA says that he does not understand how Rashi in Horayos and the other Rishonim can explain that Rav Yosef deferred the position due to his humility. The Gemara here in Berachos explicitly states that Rav Yosef refused to become the Rosh Yeshiva because a Chaldean had told him that from the time he would become Rosh Yeshiva, he would live only two more years! Rashi here explains that Rav Yosef declined the position and let Rabah have it instead, because he understood that if he would become the Rosh Yeshiva, he would die two years later. (Some editions of the Gemara have this text in the Gemara itself.) The Gemara uses this incident to demonstrate that when one allows an opportunity to pass because the time for it is not ripe, the time will come when the opportunity will present itself again and he will then be able to take advantage of it ("Kol ha'Nidcheh Mipnei ha'Sha'ah, ha'Sha'ah Nidches mi'Panav").
Accordingly, Rav Yosef's refusal to accept the position was not an act of humility, but rather an act of Piku'ach Nefesh -- an attempt to save his life!
The Be'er Sheva therefore explains that in Horayos, the Gemara records this incident in order to illustrate the concept of "Kol ha'Nidcheh Mipnei ha'Sha'ah, ha'Sha'ah Nidches mi'Panav." Because Rav Yosef allowed the opportunity to become Rosh Yeshiva to pass, his destined time of demise was delayed, such that the opportunity to become Rosh Yeshiva returned to him eventually. The Gemara explains that he was so successful in delaying his demise, that not only did he not die during that time, but he never even needed a blood-letter during that entire period.
How, though, do the Rishonim -- who explain that Rav Yosef deferred due to his humility -- understand the Gemara here in Berachos?
1. The CHOK NASAN and the CHIDA (in SHA'AR YOSEF) answer the question of the Be'er Sheva as follows. How could it be that Rav Yosef was frightened by the advice of some Chaldean fortune teller? We know that the Torah commands us not to listen to such diviners, but to put our trust in Hash-m (Pesachim 113b)! How is it possible that such a great Talmid Chacham would give up the opportunity to teach Torah to the public because of the prediction of some soothsayer? In addition, why does the Gemara here not make any mention of Rav Yosef's concern for the Chaldean's prediction?
The Chok Nasan explains that the reason Rav Yosef declined the position of Rosh Yeshiva was because of his humility. However, he feared that others would not accept his claim that he was not fit for the position, and therefore he presented the reason of the Chaldean's prediction as the reason. The Gemara here is telling us the reason that Rav Yosef told everyone else. The Gemara in Horayos, though, mentions his personal, real reason -- humility -- and therefore it omits the reason mentioned in Berachos!
However, this answer does not sufficiently explain the words of the Gemara and Rashi here, which imply that Rav Yosef himself
took into account the prediction of the Chaldean. Regarding the Gemara in Pesachim which prohibits consulting with Chaldeans, there are a number of explanations in the Rishonim as to why that prohibition does not apply to the case of Rav Yosef (see Insights to Shabbos 156:1
2. There are a number of manuscripts of the Gemara which entirely omit the sentence about the Chaldean's prophecy (see Dikdukei Sofrim here). However, our text, and the text of Rashi, do have that sentence. In addition, without that text, it is not at all clear how the Gemara proves the principle of "Kol ha'Nidcheh Mipnei ha'Sha'ah, ha'Sha'ah Nidches mi'Panav."
3. The words "Kol ha'Nidcheh Mipnei ha'Sha'ah" in Horayos imply that Rav Yosef deferred the position not only because he feared for his life, but because he decided that it was not appropriate for him to become Rosh Yeshiva at that time. Accordingly, the Gemara here in Berachos is also saying that Rav Yosef deferred due to his humility.
Perhaps the Gemara may be understood as follows. When Rav Yosef heard the Chaldean's prediction, there were two possible ways that he could have interpreted the prediction. He could have understood that his position of leadership would last only two years, and he deferred the position with confidence that he would have two years of leadership later in his life. However, this is not the straightforward implication of the prediction. A person would normally understand such a prediction to mean that he would live only two years from the time that the opportunity arose for him to become Rosh Yeshiva. This would prompt a person to take advantage of his two remaining years and accept the position, rather than lose it forever by letting someone else have the position. The reason Rav Yosef was able to overcome the impulse to seize the position, according to the second interpretation, was due to his humility; in his humility, he preferred to understand the Chaldean's words as an indication that he would eventually gain the position and become Rosh Yeshiva for two years, even if someone else would take the position now. This is how the Gemara in Horayos demonstrates that "Kol ha'Nidcheh Mipnei ha'Sha'ah, ha'Sha'ah Nidches mi'Panav," and this is what the Rishonim mean when they say that Rav Yosef deferred the position due to his humility. (M. KORNFELD)
3) AGADAH: THE MEAL OF A TALMID CHACHAM
Rebbi Avin ha'Levi derives from the verse (Shemos 18:12) that one who partakes from a meal at which a Talmid Chacham is present is considered to have partaken from the radiance of the Shechinah.
The VILNA GA'ON (in Kol Eliyahu #239, and Midrash Peli'ah #17, Warsaw, 1910) writes that Rebbi Avin's teaching may shed light on a perplexing statement in the final Beraisa of Maseches Sofrim. The Beraisa there states that "the amount of food and drink that Avraham consumed was enough for seventy-four men." What does this strange statement of the Chachamim mean?
The Vilna Ga'on explains as follows. In Parshas Vayera, the Torah relates that three guests visited Avraham Avinu after his circumcision (Bereishis 18:2), and Avraham Avinu offered them a meal fit for kings (18:5-8). Although we are told that these guests were actually angels (see Rashi to 18:1), the Torah concludes that the guests ate what they were offered (18:8). How, though, can heavenly beings eat earthly food?
In the end of Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah teaches, "Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel climbed [Mount Sinai].... They gazed at Hash-m and they ate and they drank" (Shemo 24:9-11). According to Avos d'Rebbi Nasan (1:8), this means that they were nourished from the glory of the Divine Presence, just as the angels are "nourished."
How many people partook of this "meal" at Sinai? The seventy elders, Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, a total of seventy-four people. The meal that Avraham Avinu "fed" the angels consisted of the same glory of the Divine Presence of which these seventy-four men partook! This is why Avraham Avinu's heavenly visitors were able to "eat" with him. Rather than eating the physical food that they were served, the angels were actually dining on spiritual, other-worldly food -- the kind of meal in which the seventy-meal people at Sinai partook!
Where, though, was the Divine Presence at Avraham Avinu's table that nourished the angels? We may explain, based on Rebbi Avin's teaching, that since Avraham Avinu was attending to their meal, it was truly "a meal at which a Talmid Chacham is present." At such a meal, one indeed is able to thrive on the glory of the Divine Presence! (M. KORNFELD)
4) "GO TO PEACE" AND NOT "GO IN PEACE"
QUESTION: Rebbi Avin ha'Levi teaches that one who takes leave of his friend should not say, "Go in peace" ("Lech b'Shalom"), but rather, "Go to peace" ("Lech l'Shalom"). Yisro said to Moshe Rabeinu, "Lech l'Shalom," and Moshe Rabeinu succeeded. David ha'Melech told Avshalom, "Lech b'Shalom," and Avshalom was hanged by his hair and killed.
Based on this statement of Rebbi Avin ha'Levi, the VILNA GA'ON (quoted by Pardes Yosef) explains the verse, "The brothers [were so upset with Yosef that they] could not speak with him peacefully (l'Shalom)." Out of their contempt for Yosef, they could not bring themselves to bless Yosef with the word "l'Shalom," as one does to the living.
However, if one is not supposed to bless his friend with the word "b'Shalom" upon parting, then why did Yakov Avinu ask Hash-m to return him "in peace" ("v'Shavti v'Shalom") to his father's home (Bereishis 28:21)?
(a) Why is it preferable to bless the living with the word "l'Shalom?" The SEMICHAS CHACHAMIM (by Rav Naftali Kohen of Frankfort) explains that a living person must never stay on the same spiritual level. He must always grow and accomplish. A dead person, on the other hand, has already attained whatever spiritual level it is that he will reach. That is why we wish the living to go "towards peace" ("l'Shalom"), that is, towards a greater and holier spiritual level, while we wish the dead to "rest in peace" (b'Shalom), at the degree of spiritual attainment that he achieved in his lifetime.
This explains why Yakov Avinu did not use the normal terminology in his prayer. Normally, we bless the other person that he may rise higher and higher upon parting with us. Yakov Avinu, by saying "v'Shavti v'Shalom," meant to say, "I will be satisfied even if I return from the house of Lavan on the same spiritual level that I am on now." (KOHELES YITZCHAK to Parashas Vayetzei)
(b) The RITVA and CHIDUSHEI HA'RAN in the end of Moed Katan explain the difference between "l'Shalom" and "b'Shalom" differently. When one says "go in peace," it implies that only while traveling should there be peace. It does not relate to what will happen upon arrival at the destination. That is why it is not an appropriate blessing for the living; one should also bless the traveler to arrive at his destination in peace, by saying "go towards peace." "B'Shalom" is, however, an appropriate blessing to the deceased, since his destination is certainly peaceful and it is the "road there" which is fearful (as the Gemara describes at the end of Moed Katan 28a).
Accordingly, perhaps the Gemara's teaching applies only when the word "Lech" -- "go" -- is used with the word "b'Shalom," denoting that the ordeal of the journey alone should be in peace. However, Yakov Avinu prayed, "I should return in peace," meaning that when he arrives back home he should be in peace. That is an appropriate expression.
(c) Alternatively, perhaps Yakov Avinu was indeed requesting to be returned to his father's house after death, and that is why he used the word "b'Shalom." That is, he was asking Hash-m to allow him to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah along with his father. This wish was granted to him when Esav accepted all of Yakov Avinu's wealth in return for his portion in the Cave (see Rashi to Bereishis 50:5). (M. KORNFELD)